A Young Girl Is Invited to an Historic Protest In This Excerpt From An Echo in the City

Books Features K.X. Song
A Young Girl Is Invited to an Historic Protest In This Excerpt From An Echo in the City

One of the best things about contemporary YA fiction these days is how willing it is as a genre to wrestle with real-life settings and issues. And K.X Song’s debut novel An Echo in the City is no different. Set during the recent Hong Kong protests, it touches on themes ranging from class and community to social justice, freedom, and accountability. A novel that unflinchingly embraces difficult and timely truths this story is unlike anything else you’ll read this spring. 

Described as perfect for fans of Loveboat, Taipei and Last Night at the Telegraph Club, the story mixes a traditional star-crossed lovers romance with a coming-of-age tale, set against the background of Hong Kong’s fight for democracy. It follows the story of sixteen-year-old Phoenix, a young girl who finds herself accidentally drawn into the protest movement, and seventeen-year-old Kai, a police academy recruit who is subsequently torn between his duty and the spark he feels with Phoenix.

Here’s how the publisher describes the story. 

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?

An Echo in the City won’t hit shelves until June 20, but we’re excited to be able to bring you an excerpt from the story right now. 



Hong Kong




The streets are dark, but I can make out hazy silhouettes shifting against the glow of storefront windows. On the concrete, remnants of tear gas send whispering smoke into the night air, mixing with the sour scent of sweat and gunpowder.

I wait, afraid to run, afraid to stay. All I can do is concentrate on holding my baton, as if it were a hand grenade, and if I let it go, the whole world will come crashing down.

At the end of Kwong Yip Road, the crowd closes in on us from all sides. They rustle like a growing storm, muttering behind their makeshift shields of wooden boards and toilet lids, and construction cones. One boy on the front line carries a Nerf shield, a child’s toy, but his expression is as solemn as an old man’s. The protests have aged us all— decades, centuries. Time feels borrowed, or in my case, stolen.

How did I end up here, on this street, on this night? I’m supposed to be the pragmatic one, the one who makes all the right choices, who never fails to find the easy way out. You’re like water, Ma used to say, you go with the flow. Well, the river is supposed to lead to the sea, to infinite possibility, but instead, here’s a dead end, a dam.

There’s only one way out.



Three Months Earlier



The school bell rings. I elbow my way into the jail-like corridors of Whitney American School Hong Kong, searching the mass of people for a blond head about a foot taller than the rest. Charlie shouldn’t be difficult to find as one of the few expat kids at Whitney, and the loudest one at that. Once, I overheard him asking a question in AP Chemistry, and I’m not even in AP Chem. I’m in normal Chem, which happens to be in the next room over.

Today, Charlie’s making himself scarce, much to my frustration. I take one more cursory scan over the crowd before heading out back to the football field. No sign of him there either. WHERE ARE YOU? I text. Charlie knows patience isn’t one of my virtues. I check my phone again.

Someone grabs my shoulder. “Charlie! Finally, you—”

It’s Osprei, my older brother. He raises a cool brow, cocking his head to one side. This is his signature move that makes everyone from middle school girls to old grannies swoon, but his charm has zero effect on me. I fold my arms across my chest.

“You’re not happy to see me,” he notes, using Cantonese slang.

I roll my eyes. “Your powers of inference amaze me,” I reply in English.

He scowls. “Inference?”

I’ve given myself a migraine from too much eye-rolling. “It means ‘teoi leon.’”

He still looks confused. Osprei may be a pro with the ladies, but his prowess in dating doesn’t translate to prowess in academia. He’s twenty-one and just barely passed secondary school. He’s now in year two of his associate degree and still trying to get into uni. At this rate, I’ll graduate before he does.

“Some of us don’t spend all our time watching American TV shows,” Osprei retorts, in English now. “Some of us have lives.”

“You should still be scoring higher than me in English,” I point out, “seeing as you were in the States longer.” Although Osprei and I were both born in Hong Kong, we were raised in Cary, North Carolina, where Osprei got stuck with a southern drawl. (My accent comes straight from the set of Friends.) I spent all of elementary school in the US before moving back to Hong Kong when I turned eleven.

“But I guess my English is better than yours now,” I say with a shrug, smirking.

“Helps to have a white boyfriend.”

“Charlie’s not my boyfriend!”

It’s his turn to smirk. “For now.”

“What do you want anyway?” I ask, wrinkling my nose. “And why are you here? You better not be dating one of my classmates again.” I remember last year’s nightmare when Osprei asked out my badminton friend Melody, then promptly dumped her after a week. Melody hasn’t spoken to me since. (As if I have anything to do with my brother’s frivolity!)

“No way,” he says. “I’ve moved on to a more sophisticated crowd. I like a woman who knows what she wants.”

“A woman who knows what she wants wouldn’t want you.”

He flashes his signature crooked grin at me. God, we go to the same dentist, but I swear his teeth are whiter than mine. Another one of life’s injustices.

“You’ll see soon enough.” He yawns, not bothering to cover his mouth. “Mom wants me to drive you home. She needs Uncle Chow for Dad’s airport pickup tonight.”

Uncle Chow isn’t our biological uncle. He’s actually our family driver, but he’s been driving us for years, since as long as I can remember, so he’s more family to me than my real uncle. Than my real dad, even.

“Wait.” I perk up. “Dad’s coming home?”

Osprei presses his lips together, dismayed at my excitement. “He’s staying at a hotel tonight. He said he’ll stop by for dinner tomorrow.”

“Dad’s in Hong Kong and he’s staying at a hotel?” I shriek. Two pigeons and a football player turn their heads my way; I lower my voice. “Why doesn’t he just stay at home like normal? He can stay in the guest room if Mom doesn’t want . . .”

“Because nothing is normal, okay?” Osprei says through his teeth. “He said he doesn’t want to disrupt the family schedule. He’s probably heading off to New York the day after.”

It’s been a month since Mom and Dad filed for a divorce, and Osprei’s right, nothing’s been normal since. Mom’s been using the fake-polite voice she usually reserves for customer service 24/7. She also spent two thousand dollars on Zen meditation crystals, but that’s another story. Meanwhile, Dad’s disappeared off the face of the earth. He’s a businessman in the shipping industry, so although this isn’t new, the complete radio silence is disconcerting. It shouldn’t surprise me to learn that Osprei, the only and eldest son, has been receiving updates, while I, the middle child, have gotten nothing. Not even an obligatory “How are you” text. Not even a question re: my SAT scores. (Shitty. Don’t ask.)

Osprei’s phone chimes. “Let’s get outta here,” he says, scrolling through his texts. “Suki’s meeting us out front.”

I scan the schoolyard one last time to check whether Charlie’s materialized. No such luck. I guess he doesn’t need to know that I’ve just failed my SATs. On that matter, does Mom really need to know either? I shake my head and force myself to think of something else. “Who’s Suki?” I ask as we cross the atrium. I recognize some of my classmates gossiping on the front steps, probably comparing SAT results.

“You’ll see,” Osprei says, an annoying lilt to his voice.

Sure enough, when we get to the curb, there’s a girl waiting for us near Osprei’s car, leaning against the door holding a cup carrier with three bubble teas in one hand. She has pink and blue streaks in her hair and wears no uniform; instead, she’s in ripped jeans and Converse. She hands a jasmine milk tea to Osprei, who answers by kissing her on the lips, effectively answering all my questions in half a second. (At least he’s efficient?) I don’t bother introducing myself to her; all his girlfriends pass with the regularity of the seasons.

“Do you want one?” Suki asks in Cantonese. She offers me a taro milk tea, which I accept with bewilderment.

“You didn’t have to get me anything,” I say, though taro is my favorite flavor.

Suki shrugs. “I work at a boba store. It’s free.” She shows me her gap-toothed smile, which is oddly charming. “My name’s Suki. I go to the University of Hong Kong but work down the street at Sharetea. Osprei offered to give me a ride to my afternoon class, if you don’t mind.”

“Of course not,” I respond, before sipping my milk tea. Suki seems more mature than Osprei’s usual sort. For one, she actually attends uni, and two, she hasn’t called Osprei any pet names in front of his sister, a courtesy his previous exes didn’t afford me.

Suki turns to Osprei. “Make sure you’re on time tomorrow. The Guardian reporter said she’ll meet me at Starbucks at four o’clock sharp. I can’t be late.”

My head shoots up. “Did you say ‘the Guardian’?”

Suki pokes at the dregs of her boba with her straw and nods as if this is perfectly ordinary. “They’re doing a story on the pro-democracy protest movement.”

“But . . . what does that have to do with you?” I wince, and soften my tone. “I don’t mean that you’re not qualified—”

Suki laughs. “I get it. Why would some random first-year with pink hair be getting interviewed by the Guardian?”

So she is getting interviewed. I bite my lip, unable to mask my brimming curiosity.

“I’m helping organize the HKU student protest movement,” she says. “You should come by. We’re demonstrating this Sunday against the extradition bill. You might’ve heard of it?”

A few classmates have mentioned it, but truthfully, I haven’t paid the news much heed, what with my SATs coming up. “I know something about a man getting tried in China and that people are annoyed,” I say, flushing.

Suki gives me a wry smile. “Annoyed is an understatement.” She leans in. “People are fucking furious.” She tilts her head and points at me in a conspiratorial manner, and suddenly I understand why Osprei likes her. “And you should be too. Come on Sunday and learn more. It’ll be . . . educational. Your brother’s going.”

I turn my incredulous gaze on Osprei. “You are?”

“Why not?” he says nonchalantly. “Besides—”

“Nix!” Charlie runs toward us at last, his long legs taking the stairs two at a time. His blond hair is tousled and windswept, and his uniform collar creased and turned up. Charlie is just sixteen like me, but already six foot. It’s unfair, really. When we first met, we were the same height, but then I stopped growing, and he didn’t. I think he leached my growth spurt from me, like a tree that saps nutrients from its neighbor’s roots. (Charlie tells me my theory has no scientific basis. He’s clearly in denial.) “Sorry I’m late,” he pants, out of breath. “Mr. Yim held me back.”

I narrow my eyes. “Why?”

“Never mind,” he says in a rush, avoiding my gaze. “It doesn’t matter.” I’m about to press him further when he asks, “How’d your SATs go?”

“Well,” I adjust the strap of my backpack. “I—”

“Nix,” Osprei interrupts, jerking his head at the car. “Suki’s class starts soon.”

“Come with us?” I plead to Charlie. I need him as an emotional airbag for when Mom inevitably hears my test results and explodes. “I can tell you in the car.”

“Where are you going?” he asks. “And nice to meet you, I don’t think we’ve met.” He offers a hand to Suki. “I’m Charlie Henderson, Phoenix’s classmate.”

“Kwan Suki,” she replies. “To answer your question, they’re dropping me off at HKU. We’re also going to a rally on Sunday. You should come along.

I nudge Charlie, jumping onto this subject change like it’s the last lifeboat off the Titanic. “Let’s check it out. It sounds interesting.”

Charlie looks reluctant. “I don’t know,” he hedges. “I’m taking my SATs soon, and there’s college prep. . . .”

I really don’t want to talk, listen, or even think about college prep right now. Not when it’s uncertain that I’ll even get into college. “This will be good material for your personal statement,” I tell Charlie. Suki snorts. “You can talk about having a life outside your grades.”

“Good point,” he acknowledges, though I was mostly joking. (Mostly.)

“So that’s settled,” Osprei says. “Let’s move.”

“Hey,” Charlie says after getting in the car, looking around at all the half-finished drinks in the cupholders. “Where’s my bubble tea?”

Suki suddenly seems not to understand English.

An Echo in the City will be released on June 20, 2023, but you can pre-order it right now. 

Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.`

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin