Seventeen-year-old Alex Jackson comes home from school to find that his father, a CBC news cameraman, wants to take him to China's capital, Beijing. Once there, Alex finds himself on his own in Tian An Men Square as desperate students fight the Chinese army for their freedom. Separated from his father and carrying illegal videotapes, Alex must trust the students to help him escape.
Closely based on eyewitness accounts of the massacre in Beijing, Forbidden City is a powerful and frightening story.
Despite certain shortcomings, this fictionalized account of the tragedy of Tiananmen Square is as engrossing as it is appalling. When Alex's father, a news cameraman, is assigned to Beijing, Alex leaps at the chance to join him. At loose ends in the alien metropolis, the teenager studies Chinese and explores the city on his bike, filming with a makeshift hidden camera. Not surprisingly, these skills come in handy during both the student protests and the subsequent crackdown. In fact, Alex's avocation, along with his father's profession, seem to have been chosen solely to provide the reader with a bird's-eye view of the events of that brutal spring. Even Alex's obsession with military history seems tacked on in order to facilitate the lumbering symbolism of the novel's conclusion. By contrast, Bell's descriptions of the action in and around the Square are vivid and heartbreaking--there are moments when the searing force of this fragment of recent history shines through the thin characters and eclipses the contrived plot. Ages 12-up.