{Review} THIS TIME IT'S REAL by Ann Liang

O P E N I N G   H O O K:

 I'M ABOUT TO CHANGE into my school uniform when I notice the man floating outside my bedroom window.
   No, floating isn't the right word, I realize as I step closer, my plaid skirt still crumpled in one hand, my pulse racing in my ears. He's dangling. His whole body is suspended by two metal wires that look dangerously thin, considering how we're on the twenty-eightth floor and the summer wind's been blowing extra hard since noon, kicking up dust and leaves like a mini tornado.
   I shake my head, bewildered as to why anyone would put themselves in such a position. What is this--some kind of new extreme sport? A gang initiation?
   A mid-life crisis?
   The man catches me staring and gives me a cheerful little wave, as if he isn't one faulty wire or loose knot or particularly aggressive bird away from plummeting down the side of the building. Then, still ever-so-casual, he pulls out a wet cloth from his pocket and starts scrubbing the glass between us, leaving trails of white foam everywhere.
   Right. Of course.
   My cheeks heat. I've been away from China for so long that I completely forgot this is how apartment windows are cleaned--the same way I forgot how the subway lines work, or how you're not supposed to flush toilet paper, or how you can only bargain at certain types of stores without coming across as broke or stingy. Then there are all the things that have changed in the twelve years that my family and I were overseas, the things I never had the chance to learn in the first place. 

(Page 10, US e-book edition)

“Words just move me. A beautiful sentence will sneak under my skin and crack me open the way a phrase of music might, or climactic scene from a movie. A well-crafted story can make me laugh and gasp for breath and weep.


I picked this up on a whim, having never read Ann Liang before, and fell completely head over heels for her writing. I don't read a ton of YA contemporary, but there are a few authors who are just *chef kiss* authors I'll pick up whenever a new title releases. Ann Liang has joined that list! I finished this book and just felt very happy -- it's a book that will lift you up and leave you with a smile.

Having lived in Japan and traveled around Asia, I am weak for books set in these countries. Throw in books with "behind-the-scenes" drama featuring actors or singers and I'm hooked. Liang mixes all of that together in THIS TIME IT'S REAL and adds so much emotion and heart that I couldn't help but become instantly addicted to her writing.

I also instantly connected with Eliza Lin, a girl who lives and breathes writing. Unfortunately, when she's supposed to write a personal essay that will be featured on the school website, she decides to write a fictional story about a boyfriend she met upon moving back to China. The essay instantly goes viral and Eliza goes from invisible wallflower to overnight sensation. She even gets offered an internship at the job of her dreams. But if anyone finds out that she lied, she'll lose everything. This is where her classmate, actor Caz Song, comes in. By posing as an amazing boyfriend, he can clean up his image and recoup some lost sponsorships, plus Eliza will help him with his college admissions essays. She'll write about their relationship for her internship, and they'll break up in six months. What could go wrong?

It was easy to become attached to Eliza, who straddles two worlds, having grown up bouncing between countries and schools for her mother's job. She doesn't belong anywhere, and has no lasting friendships save for her best friend Zoe -- but even they seem to be growing apart this year. She leaves and everyone moves on and forgets her. But all Eliza wants is to find a place to belong and people to call her own who will always be there for her. 

“And this, I think, is my ultimate fatal flaw. Missing people who don't miss me back. Clinging on to strands of string that shouldn't mean half as much as they do. It takes so little for me to love someone, yet so long for me to move on.


She also has a good relationship with her family, and we get a ton of great scenes with her younger sister, which we don't always see as often as I'd like in YA fiction. I really love that Ann Liang blends relationships of all types so well: not just the romance, but familial and friendship as well. If all her books are this symbiotic, she is instantly going right beside Kasie West, whose books are some of my favorites to recommend for these very same reasons.

And Caz! I really enjoyed chipping away at his exterior and learning more about him alongside Eliza. I liked seeing what made him tick and wish there was even more page-time for him because these two just shine when they're together and really had great chemistry, even as they were fighting it.

While this is my first Ann Liang novel, it absolutely isn't my last. I've already picked up and began reading her debut, IF YOU COULD SEE THE SUN and I can't wait to pick up I HOPE THIS DOESN'T FIND YOU when it releases next week!


Content Ratings: highlight between ( ) for details

Romance: PG ( Kissing )
Language: PG ( Crap, shit, asshole )
Violence: --
Other:  PG13+ ( ies. )
C O V E R   D E S I G N:

It's such a cute cover! I love the colors and the illustration. 

I am also a sucker for couples under umbrellas. 

This is just such a whimsical cover and it absolutely did its job because I picked it right on up to read!
O F F I C I A   I N F O:

Author: Ann Liang
Release Date: February 7, 2023
Publisher: Scholastic Press 
Received: Borrowed from Library

When seventeen-year-old Eliza Lin’s essay about meeting the love of her life unexpectedly goes viral, her entire life changes overnight. Now she has the approval of her classmates at her new international school in Beijing, a career-launching internship opportunity at her favorite magazine…and a massive secret to keep.

Eliza made her essay up. She’s never been in a relationship before, let alone in love. All good writing is lying, right?

Desperate to hide the truth, Eliza strikes a deal with the famous actor in her class, the charming but aloof Caz Song. She’ll help him write his college applications if he poses as her boyfriend. Caz is a dream boyfriend -- he passes handwritten notes to her in class, makes her little sister laugh, and takes her out on motorcycle rides to the best snack stalls around the city.

But when her relationship with Caz starts feeling a little too convincing, all of Eliza’s carefully laid plans are threatened. Can she still follow her dreams if it means breaking her own heart?

Get ready to fall in love in this hilarious romcom about a girl who begins a fake relationship with the famous actor in her class, perfect for fans of Meg Cabot and Jenny Han.