A Heartfelt and Fun Read

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I enjoyed If You Could See the Sun Immensely. I was instantly drawn to Alice as a character and found her endearing and relatable, and that really shines through in the strength of her voice in the writing itself. I enjoyed her habit of making pro and con lists, that was such an effective way to capture her way of thinking, and her feelings--especially her nervousness and determination--just jumped right off the page. In addition, it was really impactful to read a character who places so much value on her grades and see this drive handled in such a realistic, compassionate way with full consideration for the economic factors that lead to her putting so much pressure on herself. As a college sophomore who recently walked out of a test I wasn't prepared for and immediately cried about it, the moment where Alice realizes she forgot to study for a test and panicked was just so palpable, it really tugged at my heart and just felt so realistic. I also loved Alice's drive, the determination and simple logic she uses to approach every problem that comes her way--even when the problems become increasingly intense and eventually illegal. Even when she decided to literally help with a kidnapping, the compassion with which she is written and the way that Liang really draws the reader into her feelings and situation made this, while not necessarily the best choice, extremely understandable.

I also really enjoyed her romance with Henry! It felt like it developed very naturally within the plot without eclipsing Alice's other struggles and the plot overall, and I thought that their rival dynamic was super fun to read. It's especially funny to understand as an audience that Henry views this relationship very differently than Alice at the start of the book (he has a picture of them together on his desk!!!) and see her be at first a little oblivious of this and then watch as her own feelings for him change and develop. I also thought that Henry is handled well in terms of establishing that no, being rich didn't magically stop him from having any problems in his life whatsoever, but at the same time the book handles the fact that he will still never have to struggle and worry about some of the things Alice must. She's able to learn this about him without it diminishing her very real struggles with income and the sheer differences in their lives.

That's another thing I really appreciated--the genuine and compassionate portrayal of Alice's lower-income family and the way this shapes her whole life. It feels fully incorporated into every aspect of the text, from Alice's worries about her parents' wellbeing to her feeling out of place in fancy shopping districts to keeping her from making friends with her rich classmates who might expect her to match their spending to even just her not having the latest phone. This all felt very naturally incorporated, and again makes her motivation throughout the book SO strong and very reasonable, especially with how hard she's worked academically. I also really loved that, although Alice did mess up in again aiding in a kidnapping (even if she then helps stop it), the text fully places the emphasis on the circumstances that push Alice to this. I also LOVED that Alice uses her clever thinking (and a bit of blackmail) to keep away from the worst consequences of being sued and everything, where she turns back the school's extreme reputation back on them. It feels more nuanced (and frankly more fun) to not just have her take the "moral high road" or whatever and come clean completely, especially when the school and, y'know, the actual people behind the kidnapping are much more at fault than she is. Even if Alice has to move to another school, that ending meeting scene was SO satisfying to read, watching as her plan came together and she managed to turn the power of this elite school over to her side, it was just a blast.

Overall this was such a great book! I read almost all of it in one day and the ending absolutely made me cry (especially Alice's interactions with her parents, those were ROUGH but so realistic and impactful!!!), and the ending felt like a great conclusion to such a moving story. The writing was well-done, with a clear voice and great pacing to keep me wrapped up in the story the whole way through.