If You Could See the Sun by Ann Liang
Expected Publication: October 11, 2022
for a medium-dark story that feels like a dark-reality fairy tale, for academic rivals / unlikely team tropes, for a look at morality and poverty and how those two can conflict
Alice Sun has always felt invisible at her elite Beijing international boarding school, where she’s the only scholarship student among China’s most rich and influential teens. But then she starts uncontrollably turning invisible—actually invisible.
When her parents drop the news that they can no longer afford her tuition, even with the scholarship, Alice hatches a plan to monetize her strange new power—she’ll discover the scandalous secrets her classmates want to know, for a price.
But as the tasks escalate from petty scandals to actual crimes, Alice must decide if it’s worth losing her conscience—or even her life.
Oh man. I’ve been looking forward to this one for, I don’t know, 10 months now? I came in expecting this book to be gut-wrenchingly sad, and — thankfully — it was actually not quite so much. Maybe that’s because my expectations were SO dire that in reality it seemed easier. To be clear, though, this is not an easy read. There’s so much pain and fear in it, everyone is saturated. But that’s the point: the emotions, the underlying fear in life that connects even the most otherwise disparate people.
Anyway. To take a more structure look at this book, the plot is solid. The problem is pitched by page four (roughly), and the “answer” arrives shortly after. The bulk of the book is the descent into gray areas of desperation and greed, of hero and villain, of love and hate. The events themselves are straightforward, but they build like a bigger and bigger dare each time, and with them, the tension. I started to wonder if I could still support the character or if they had Gone Too Far or Crossed A Line. It was like watching the origin story of a villain, where you like the and sympathize and then realize they’re trying to snap their fingers to make half of all beings no longer exist.
That moral grayness, if you couldn’t tell, was my favorite thing about this. It was a like a dark cloud over every scene, making it hard for any character to see right from wrong clearly. Alice in particular has a hard time seeing herself clearly (har har).
If you’re here for romance, be aware that it does not exist. There’s hinted at tensions, and slow realizations, but they are probably third or fourth in line as far as important plot lines go. It is, however, a young adult book. So of course there has to be some hints of romantic interest for a little added seasoning.
Secrets permeate every nook of this story. Alice’s secrets; Henry’s secrets; Chanel’s secrets; and the rich girl, and the cruel boy, and artsy girl, and the boy’s whose parents are rivals. Teachers? Probably. Everyone. And what I loved most about that was how so many of those secrets connected people without them even knowing. Poetry in secrecy, and that bittersweet irony of knowing what the characters didn’t every time they bemoaned feeling so alone in their pain and fear and holding it all in. Little do they know, everyone is the same.
Man, I’m listening to one of those stormy rain soundscapes right now and it’s definitely coloring this review’s style. It’s all still true and perfectly suits the mood of this book, though, so it works. But “permeate” and “bemoaned”? Let’s move on.
It’s good, y’all. It’s not quite so dark that it feels repressively grim and horrific, but it’s certainly not pulling an punches either. Read it.
Thanks to Bookishfirst and Inkyard Press for an early copy of this book. This is my honest review.
9 thoughts on “ARC Review: If You Could See The Sun by Ann Liang (10/11/22)”
This sounds like a really unique book!
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I can’t think of others totally like it since it’s pieces of common setups in a new one. Rich / poor, boarding school drama, exploitation of secrets, academic rivals, magical realism… it’s got a lot of little bits in there!
Wow, fantastic review! I had seen this cover before (it’s gorge) but I hadn’t taken a proper look at the synopsis until just now you’ve totally sold me on the plot and characters and the moral greyness of it all. It sounds so good and really well written, too. Definitely adding this one to the TBR!
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Thanks! It went pretty quickly but it was a bit like a roller coaster where you’re clicking upward at the start and then it’s just faster and faster from there 😅