‘An Echo in the City’ Review: A Dazzling and Profound Debut by K. X. Song

7 Min Read
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Author K. X. Song has officially made her publishing debut with the release of An Echo in the City. Set during the 2019 protests in Hong Kong following the extradition bill, the novel centers on Phoenix and Kai, two star-crossed teens who soon fall in love. Phoenix struggles with her parents’ lofty expectations of her, though all she really wants is home. It’s not until she becomes involved with the protest movement that she begins to understand what “home” means to her. Meanwhile, Kai, faced with no other options and a father who barely knows he exists, begins training as a police officer. After an accidental phone swap, Kai learns of Phoenix’s involvement in the protests, planning to infiltrate her group to gain his father’s approval. However, it’s not as easy as he first thought when he and Phoenix quickly bond – and she has no idea what he’s planning.

Song’s greatest strength with An Echo in the City are her two primary characters: Phoenix and Kai. First up is Phoenix, a hopeful teen still learning about herself and who she wants to be. Phoenix is also raised in a financially stable home, living a privileged life. Her life circumstances place her in an interesting position, as she is so used to most things in her life being dictated for her that she has yet to carve her path. Her spot amongst her siblings as the middle child doesn’t help matters, either. It’s not until Phoenix becomes involved with the protests that she begins to form a better understanding of herself, and her privilege gives her a unique viewpoint. Unlike many of the people she’s surrounded by, the stakes aren’t as dire for her. And she acknowledges it, using it and her platform to shed light on everything happening. She truly becomes a force to be reckoned with. Of course, it’s not easy going at first. Song provides Phoenix the space to explore new passions, to make mistakes, and learn what it means for her to be a Hong Konger. Phoenix, like her name, is reborn in a sense, offering a beacon of hope for her friends and loved ones, and for readers.

On the flip side is Kai, who is a rather intriguing character largely in his overall mindset. Similar to Phoenix, Kai struggles to live up to his father’s expectations, but there is a much greater disconnect between Kai and his father. Something that especially struck me was how Kai doesn’t seem to know his father at all – not what he does in his spare time, if he’s dating anyone, his favorite things. The list goes on. Still, Kai craves his father’s approval. Song writes their dynamic (or, really, near lack thereof) in such a way that it’s almost impossible not to sympathize with Kai on some level. Whether a reader disagrees with Kai’s actions and viewpoints or not, they will feel for him. But Kai isn’t a one-dimensional character whose sole focus is to please his father. He experiences a dissonance in his sense of duty and how his feelings towards Phoenix shift his perspective. Song also explores how Kai’s grief from his mother’s death affects him – something that presents as a deep-rooted resentment that bleeds into nearly every aspect of his life. Through it all, though, Kai still maintains a sense of wonder, thanks to his penchant towards art, even if miniscule. He doesn’t truly get the opportunity to express himself within the confines of the story, but his ability to find the beauty in tragedy, in Hong Kong (a city he is hesitant to call home), reveals that hope still exists for Kai. He just has to find it.

It’s easy to see Phoenix and Kai’s differences; they’re from two separate worlds. But despite what sets them apart, they have on significant commonality: they both fall within the diaspora. Even with everything they endure, with everything uncommon between them, they share a profound understanding of what it means to be stranger in a strange world, to be on the outside looking in despite their families’ cultural backgrounds. Phoenix and Kai represent two sides of the same coin. Song perfectly captures how it feels to try and own an identity that may be part of your family but doesn’t truly feel like your own. Additionally, Phoenix and Kai’s views of the protest, as it relates to their cultural identities, exemplifies the complex feelings youth endure today – with an equal sense of persistence for a better future and hopelessness that it may never happen. But at the end of the day, Song’s protagonists relay a shared goal: to try no matter what.

An Echo in the City is a triumph of a debut from Song. All her characters soar off the page and carry the story with ease. They’re real and raw and vulnerable. Each one serves a purpose no matter how often they appear, a reminder that they are all united in some way. Moreover, Song deftly showcases just some of the effects the extradition bill and the protests have on Hong Kongers, using her characters to offer context and nuance. She writes with an obvious care and understanding of what happened. By the time I finished reading, I left the book knowing more than I did going in, and I know other readers will, too.

An Echo in the City is available now online and in stores. Read our interview with Song here.

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By Julia
Julia is a writer/editor/content assistant for Nerds who joined the team in 2019.
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