Ann Liang’s debut YA novel IF YOU COULD SEE THE SUN is a thoughtful exploration of class differences and the pressure to succeed, with plenty of heart and humor. Nicknamed ‘Study Machine’ by her classmates, Alice Sun is the sole scholarship recipient at a Beijing international boarding school. However, her scholarship only covers half of tuition and when Alice’s parents inform her that they can’t afford the rest, Alice feels like everything is falling apart and suddenly finds herself able to become invisible.
What made this book so compelling is how well Liang conveys Alice’s mindset; her ambition, determination, and desperation are palpable. Glimpses of Alice’s memories reveal that she and her parents immigrated to the U.S. and why they returned to Beijing. Although her parents never pressured her to study, Alice feels the weight of their efforts and sacrifices and I found this so relatable. I liked the way that Alice's invisibility reflected her overwhelming feelings of frustration and alienation.
Alice decides to team up with her academic rival Henry to use her invisibility for a money-making scheme, and it quickly escalates and raises questions of morality. I wish there had been a bit more discussion and consequences for some of Alice’s actions. Although I had mixed feelings about the ending, I was glad that she had to opportunity to confront privilege and inequality head-on. And, the scheme allowed Alice’s perspective to widen and her relationships with her classmates to grow. I loved how Alice’s relationship with Henry grew, and their banter was delightful.
Overall, I enjoyed IF YOU COULD SEE THE SUN so much and I’m already looking forward to Liang’s two upcoming YA novels.