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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at NYU chapter.

For my next Author Spotlight interview, I had the joy of interviewing K.X. Song whose debut novel has received a Starred review from Kirkus Reviews which said that Song’s “prose is lyrical and evocative, describing the characters’ emotional turmoil and the brutal clashes between protesters and police with equal deftness.”

“An Echo in the City” follows two star-crossed teenagers fall in love during the Hong Kong protests in this searing contemporary novel about coming-of-age in a time of change. 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, especially 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 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?

K.X. Song is a diaspora writer with roots in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Raised between cultures and languages, she enjoys telling stories that touch on collective memory, translation, and the shifting nature of memory and history.

What about memory retellings and translation fascinate you? Why do you find a need to emphasize this in your author bio?

Because my grandparents helped raise me, growing up, I heard a lot of stories about a turbulent time in Chinese history. I learned about my great-grandfather’s struggles with opium, my family’s experience during the Cultural Revolution in Shanghai, and the sly cat who saved my mother’s life. If I had to make a guess, I would say this is where my interest in translation and collective memory began. What was fascinating to me as a child was not the oversimplified narratives of classroom books, but these morally ambiguous tales that diverged and shifted with each retelling. 

In a similar manner, it is these diaspora tensions that sparked my passion for creative writing–the ability to engender empathy and share perspectives far removed from one’s own. Writing fiction enabled me to imagine the world more closely through the eyes of my grandparents. In fact, the first creative piece I wrote was a retelling of my family’s history, one that was passed down only through oral tradition until then. During that process, interviewing my relatives allowed me to connect not only with my family but also with myself. Since then, I’ve begun to learn the ways in which we are all shaped by our history, whether we acknowledge it or not. 

Kai & Phoenix are very different in terms of their personalities. What did you learn about yourself through writing both POVs?

I put pieces of myself in both Kai and Phoenix. In Kai, I put my tendency toward melancholy, my feelings of powerlessness and my desire to make art despite external forces in this world that try to tell us otherwise. In Phoenix, I put my love for big families, my naïve optimism and my wonder and awe in this beautiful world we live in. 

Through writing these two very different points of view, I wanted to explore the question: Can two people from fully disparate world views, backgrounds, cultures and contexts ever come to fully know and understand each other? 

How do you think writing about the Hong Kong protests in your novel impacts your American audience? What do you hope to accomplish? 

When I first started writing this book, most of my Western friends weren’t aware of the Hong Kong protests, apart from a few clickbait headlines on the news. I hope that in reading “An Echo in the City,” American–and Western readers at large–can come away with a more nuanced and holistic understanding of the situation in Hong Kong and the real, three-dimensional people behind the headlines, people with real hopes and dreams and fears. I hope readers can also begin to ask themselves these questions that Phoenix and Kai ask themselves: about home, and community and the agency we all have in shaping that community and the places we call home.

Every novel an author writes has some piece of them inside the work. How would you say this concept applies to you for your debut novel?

As a first-generation immigrant and someone who grew up traveling between cultures and countries, I often felt guilty claiming certain places as “home.” I gave these feelings of loneliness and alienation to Phoenix and Kai, in that they are both diaspora kids who have trouble answering the question: “where do you come from?” I wanted “An Echo in the City” to embrace this intangible otherness, and to frame it not as a barrier but rather, as a gift.

As an adult, I’ve now met many other diaspora people who often experience a comparable sense of alienation growing up. I hope that readers who feel similarly stuck in liminal spaces can read Phoenix and Kai’s story and resonate with their struggles, whether it be through the question of where one belongs, or who one belongs with or even of belonging itself—and how one can endeavor to make sense of their place and purpose in an ever-changing world.

What can readers look forward to in this novel?

Readers can look forward to a truly slow-burn romance, sunshine x grumpy pairing and forbidden love and plenty of secret dating tropes. ☺ Also, I hope readers can find the themes meaningful and come away believing in the power and potential of community, and from a young adult perspective, the agency of youth.  
As I alluded to earlier, “An Echo in the City” asks a lot of questions of Phoenix and Kai, and in a similar manner, I hope readers can begin to ask themselves those same questions: regardless of external forces, where do I want to call home? What does it mean to call a place “home,” and what responsibility does that decision come with? How can I assume agency and intentionality in the choices that dictate my identity–and how I see myself in this ever-changing world? 

Thank you so much K.X. for answering my questions! I loved reading your in-depth answers about what else “An Echo in the City” encompasses in addition to the star-crossed lover trope. I’d also like to thank Cheryl Lew from the Hachette Book Group who extended this interview opportunity to me and granted me a digital reader copy of Song’s novel.

Sabrina Blandon is an English major at NYU with a minor in creative writing. Avid reader herself and literary advocate, she has interviewed over 60 authors from New York Times bestselling ones to debut authors for Her Author Spotlight blog series for Her Campus NYU and Her Campus Hofstra. She loves exploring everything New York City has to offer and is a major foodie.