by Ann Liang
“God, I hate him. I hate him and his flawless, porcelain skin and immaculate uniform and his composure, as untouchable and unfailing as his ever-growing list of achievements. I hate the way people look at him and see him, even if he’s completely silent, head down and working at his desk.”
As the only scholarship student at her elite Beijing international school, Alice Sun feels invisible. After several years at Airington, she knows everyone but is friends with no one. Even as a star student, she is constantly having to share her moments in the spotlight with Henry Li, heir to one of China’s largest tech companies. Henry is everything Alice wishes she could be: smart, effortlessly poised, and never, ever invisible. Then Alice begins turning involuntarily and actually invisible at unexpected moments just as her parents break the news that they can no longer afford to pay the fifty percent of her tuition that her scholarship does not cover. Desperate to keep her place at the school and the future that it promises, Alice comes up with a plan to sell her invisibility services to her classmates. Soon the tasks begin to escalate, forcing her to confront what she is willing to do—who she is willing to hurt—in order to stay.
If You Could See the Sun is a guaranteed pick for fans of an enemies/academic rivals to accomplices to lovers dynamic. In a perfectly delicious “I didn’t know where else to go” moment, Alice turns to Henry for help with her invisibility problem. With no clue how to stop the episodes of invisibility, Alice instead strikes on the idea of monetizing them, with Henry using his programming skills to create an app that will help anonymously sell her services. As they team up, Alice begins to realize that Henry might not quite hate her the same way she always thought she hated him. Worse, Henry might just be a genuinely good person. The fantasy element of invisibility is introduced largely as a metaphor for Alice’s feelings, and to explore her character and motivations. It is not explained or solved, and I wouldn’t recommend this for anyone looking for strong fantasy world building about how or why her powers work—or sometimes don’t.
As a protagonist, Alice is emotionally messy, single-minded, and not particularly likeable. It is for this reason, however, that it is necessary for her to be the point-of-view character. In order to understand her questionable actions, we need to be inside that twisting seethe of emotions and warped self-worth that leads her step-by-step down a dark path as the Beijing Ghost. As Alice herself notes, “here at Airington, there are many different tickets to respect—talent, beauty, wealth, charm, family connections… But kindness is not one of them.” If You Could See the Sun delves down deep into the dark depths of her insecurities in ways that are not always pleasant.
As the reputation of Beijing Ghost grows, the tasks Alice is asked to perform grow increasingly serious, and the paydays increase proportionally. Soon Alice is thinking not just of staying at Airington but paying her way through university as well. Secrets are currency, particularly in a world where the people surrounding Alice have all the money they could ever need. And with her power of invisibility, Alice can now turn secrets into money. Money she desperately needs if she wants to stay at Airington until graduation and relieve her parents of the heavy burden of paying for her education. However, working as the Beijing Ghost gives Alice a peek beneath the surface of the seemingly perfect, privileged lives of her classmates. From a girl whose ex-boyfriend is threatening to share her sexts to a classmate who believes her father is cheating on her mother with a younger woman, her peers turn out to have a lot of problems she could never have guessed at. And as she gets to know Henry, Alice realizes just how much pressure he is under as well.
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