I wrote this story for you. For you who has felt–at one point or another–othered, alienated, or unseen, even while highly visible. For you who often struggled to find representation that you could look up to–so you settled for the cute side character, the one who the protagonist has a crush on for two seconds, before ultimately ending up with the more popular girl. Or the one who is kind and good and lovely–but dies in the end. Because they always die in the end.
Phoenix and Kai are both unlikely protagonists because they’re the ones you’d typically find on the margins of the story. AN ECHO IN THE CITY is set entirely in Hong Kong, and yet at the start of the novel, neither Phoenix nor Kai feel confident calling themselves Hong Kongers. As diaspora kids, Phoenix grows up between Hong Kong and America, while Kai grows up between Hong Kong and mainland China. Simply put, they’re people who don’t know how to confidently and succinctly answer the dreaded question: “Where are you from?”
Growing up, I thought this problem unique to me. These feelings of alienation and loneliness, of being othered, of feeling trapped in liminal spaces–I struggled to find others who could relate. Little did I know that all of us experience these feelings, in one way or another. How wild it is: that we each perceive our separateness as our own. That, in fact, what bridges us together at times is not our similarities but our differences.
This is how Kai and Phoenix find each other. They are nothing alike, but in their opposition, they attract one another. Phoenix is impulsive and loud; Kai is reserved, indecisive. Phoenix comes from a big family; Kai is an only child. Phoenix is a dreamer, an optimist; Kai is a creature of melancholy. While these outward markers work to keep them apart, through the catalyst of the Hong Kong protests, the two ultimately come to know each other. As they grow closer, they begin to perceive their inherent sameness in each other; and it is this togetherness that unites the city of Hong Kong at a pivotal moment in history.
In writing AN ECHO IN THE CITY, I began to remember my childhood self: the kid who thought she was too different, that her loneliness and alienation would never be fully understood. I began to see her strengths as specific and unique, but her worries as universal. I thought: if only she could look into those early stories and find someone just like her, someone who struggles with belonging and identity and home, but who ultimately finds their answers within the pages of the story. I guess in writing this book, she finally found her answer.
Now the story belongs to you.
by K. X. Song
Sixteen-year-old Phoenix knows her parents have invested thousands of dollars to help her leave Hong Kong and get an elite Ivy League education. They think America means big status, big dreams, and big bank accounts. But Phoenix doesn’t want big; she just wants home. The trouble is, she doesn’t know where that is…until the Hong Kong protest movement unfolds, and she learns the city she’s come to love is in danger of disappearing.
Seventeen-year-old Kai sees himself as an artist, not a filial son, and certainly not a cop. But when his mother dies, he’s forced to leave Shanghai to reunite with his estranged father, a respected police officer, who’s already enrolled him in the Hong Kong police academy. Kai wants to hate his job, but instead, he finds himself craving his father’s approval. And when he accidentally swaps phones with Phoenix and discovers she’s part of a protest network, he finds a way to earn it: by infiltrating the group and reporting their plans back to the police.
As Kai and Phoenix join the struggle for the future of Hong Kong, a spark forms between them, pulling them together even as their two worlds try to force them apart. But when their relationship is built on secrets and deception, will they still love the person left behind when the lies fall away?