BY ANNE CAYWOOD
Big thank you to Inkyard Press for providing me with an ARC of this wonderful piece! This book doesn’t come out until October, but I personally think everyone needs to put it on their to-read and preorder it as soon as humanly possible, because… wow. This book blew me away.
If You Could See The Sun follows Alice Sun, a young, gifted girl who attends an elite prep school in Beijing. However, when her family drops the news that they will not be able to send her there anymore, Alice discovers she has the ability to turn invisible. By accident. Capitalizing on her newfound power, she teams up with her academic rival who she hates very, very much, Henry Li, to dish out her classmates’ secrets in exchange for money.
It’s very rare I click request on an eARC as fast as I did for this one, but my mouse moved astronomically quick when I saw the stunning cover paired with dark academia, magical realism, and academic rivals to lovers set in somewhere that wasn’t England or the east coast United States. There was no way I was taking no for an answer. And I’m so glad I didn’t; this book checked every box for me. The romance was a perfect slow burn, every character was so fun and wonderful, and the cast was diverse and so, so real. The magical realism was beautifully executed and added a touch of symbolism to the story.
I also would like to mention how much I adore Henry.
What stood out to me as I read this is that everyone came from different backgrounds, and the book urges you not to judge anyone by their outward appearance. Alice, our narrator, comes from a very different background from many others at her school, but she learns more about her classmates and it reminds us as readers that there is always more to someone than meets the eye. Whether rich, poor, beautiful, privileged, etc, each character is fundamentally different and challenges the reader to look beyond external perception. Young adult novels in academic settings, in particular, can fall into a trap of stereotyping characters. If You Could See the Sun doesn’t do this at all. Instead, it challenges preconceived notions Alice may have about her classmates she didn’t know that well to begin with, and presents a different story for every single person that crosses the page.
Did I mention I love Henry?
Alice is also a lovely protagonist and is about everything readers dream of in a badass, independent female protagonist. She doesn’t distinguish herself as “different from other girls” or put herself above any of her peers, but she is humble yet headstrong and brilliantly feisty. She also has the best one-liners (my favorite: “I’m greeted at my aunt’s door by Buddha. Not the Buddha himself—though it certainly wouldn’t be the strangest thing to happen to me this week.”). Her voice is strong and inspirational and certainly provides a voice to those of us who were mega-overachievers in school (I know I was). I wish I could hand this book to a 16-year old me—Alice might’ve inspired me to slow down a little!
Now to expand on Henry (as I’ve been wanting to do this whole time). Admittedly, I almost always hate love interests. I was thrilled to see that this book subverted my preconceived opinions once again. Henry first comes across as this perfect, smug, beautiful man who Alice feels frustrated she cannot live up to. They are competitive, and he has a way of pushing Alice’s buttons like no one ever has. However, when they end up partnering to create the app together, Alice learns more about him and that his life wasn’t all big money and studying like she originally thought. He grows just as much as Alice during the novel and is much, much more than a pretty face. He is easily my favorite character in the whole book (shocking for you all to hear, I know).
Aside from the main two, every side character is well-developed and easy to remember. The number of characters introduced is not overwhelming, yet not so small that the school feels entirely empty. The teachers, especially, provide some insight into the story and serve as mentors who push Alice into making better decisions for herself and not devalue her own worth despite the differences between her and her classmates.
Without giving too much away, I also commend the fact that this was a young adult novel without an ending where everyone wins. Often when I read young adult novels, the characters are not held accountable for their mistakes. It’s frustrating, and it makes the endings very weak. Liang cleverly challenges this by creating a favorable outcome for her characters, but not a perfect one. Alice’s problems don’t magically go away with a flick of the wrist but rather, she uses the bad situation as well as her intelligence to her advantage. The characters are held accountable for their actions, and while things ultimately end well, they don’t end with the problems dissipating into thin air. Typically the endings of novels are like a walk through the mud for me, but this one left me pleasantly surprised!
If You Could See the Sun is a delightful read, packed with drama, a wonderful romance, and a spark of hope for young people that may not yet know what they want to do with their lives or understand how much they’re worth. Absolutely unputdownable, with an exceptionally strong protagonist and a compelling story, this is a debut packed with elements that will delight readers of any age. Thanks again to Inkyard Press for a free eARC, and I am on my knees begging anyone who has read this far to wishlist this book immediately!
ANNE CAYWOOD is a junior at Arizona State University, pursuing a career in English. She is also a full-time barista at a locally owned coffee shop, and in turn, is a bit of a coffee snob and loves promoting local businesses. When she is not working or writing, you can find her reading every dark academic novel she can get her hands on, watching cat videos on YouTube, and playing video games. She is also a volunteer intern for the literary magazine Sepia Quarterly.