Cover image for Forbidden city : a novel
Forbidden city : a novel
Bell, William, 1945-2016.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers, 1996.

Physical Description:
199 pages : map ; 18 cm.
Seventeen-year-old Alex Jackson is thrilled when his father, a cameraman, asks Alex to join him on assignment in China. They both will become part of the great historical events that sweep China in the spring of 1989. As students and civilians demonstrate in Tian An Men Square for changes in the government, Alex feels the thrill of being a reporter. But his excitement turns to horror when he witnesses the death of his Chinese friend. Alex and his father know they must communicate the story to the rest of the world, but at what cost to their own lives?
General Note:
A Bantam starfire book.
Reading Level:
RL: 6.0.

870 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 6.3 9.0 6921.

Reading Counts RC High School 6.5 12 Quiz: 04102 Guided reading level: NR.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Young Adult Mass Market Paperback Classics

On Order



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.nbsp;nbsp;Once there, Alex finds himself on his own in Tian An Men Square as desperate students fight the Chinese army for their freedom.nbsp;nbsp;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.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Author Notes

William Bell was a Canadian author whose young adult novels have been translated into nine languages and have won a number of awards, among them the Manitoba Readers' Choice Award, the Mr. Christie's Award, the Ruth Schwartz Award, and the Canadian Librarians' Association Award. He died in 2016.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 6-11. Caught in Beijing with his journalist-photographer father, 17-year-old Alex experiences the events of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Wounded while trying to escape, he gains an insight into the perspective of the Chinese students as they care for him. Based on the writer's experience in China, news reports, and eyewitness accounts, the fast-paced narrative makes for compelling reading.

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 6-12-- Alex, 17-year-old war aficionado and son of a Canadian cameraman, accompanies his father to China and becomes enmeshed in the Tiananmen incident of 1989. He gets separated from his father, is befriended by some students, witnesses a good deal of the massacre, and is finally smuggled out by a student who pays for his liberation with her life. This is a blood-and-thunder story, and Bell tells it with gusto. Incidents are piled on one another, background descriptions are very convincing, and at times readers will almost feel they are there. All this amounts to an incredibly compelling novel. Curiously, when the protagonist is not in China, he becomes somewhat one-dimensional. The beginning is a tad contrived to lead to the real meat of the novel, and the ending is pat beyond common decency (in a grand, melodramatic scene, Alex destroys all his war toys back in comfy surburban Toronto). Yet the preponderant part of this novel is marvelously realized, partially from the immediacy of using first-person narration, partially from telling vignettes that really bring the time, place, and situation to life in a most memorable way. There is also a certain ring of truth about some elements of the story that resonates long after putting this novel down. In spite of the flaws, this is an excellent tale, well told, and a historical novel of note. --John Philbrook, San Francisco Public Library (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.