Discover more from Overthinker
Review: This Time It's Real by Ann Liang
Fake dating, real feelings
This Time It’s Real follows seventeen-year-old Eliza Lin as she goes viral after writing a fake essay about the love of her life. She enlists her classmate Caz to help her pretend that the story was real and what ensues is a brilliantly vulnerable love story.
This is Ann Liang’s second novel, following her magical realist debut If You Could See the Sun which was nominated in last year’s Goodreads Choice Awards. Liang already demonstrated her talent for crafting romance in If You Could See the Sun and she cements it in This Time It’s Real with another compelling narrative.
This Time It’s Real is a beautifully written, heartfelt young adult novel about a girl who learns to open herself up to love again.
Eliza and Caz begin spending time together in rather unique circumstances. Required to write a personal essay as a school assignment, Eliza decides to write about a fake boyfriend. While she knew that she wasn’t telling the truth, she didn’t expect her made-up story to attract so much attention.
Thanks to the story, she finds herself in the unusual predicament of finally beginning to fit in at her new Beijing school and offered an internship to write for her favourite magazine. So she strikes up a deal with her school’s resident famous teen actor Caz Song: if he will pretend to be her boyfriend in order to satisfy all these other people, Eliza will help with his college applications.
Caz agrees and the deal seems perfectly formed. That is, until Eliza starts to get to know Caz and the feelings that hide behind his charming veneer.
‘When you care about someone, you want to be inconvenienced—you wouldn’t mind being inconvenienced by them every day for the rest of your life. That’s what love is. That’s all love really is.’
A romance novel which tells the story of two people falling in love often involves them being challenged by various obstacles that prevent them from getting together. In some stories, these obstacles can feel forced and overly fabricated for the sake of a good story.
That’s not the case here. The conflict that stands in the way of Eliza and Caz’s happily ever after feels real. Liang avoids the contrived obstacles that often marr other romance stories by telling a story where Eliza and Caz must overcome their own vulnerabilities.
‘It takes so little for me to love someone, yet so long for me to move on.’
Having grown up in six different countries and attended twelve different schools, it’s natural that Eliza would have reservations about forming lasting relationships when she is constantly on the move. She’s lost the energy to decorate her new bedroom in Beijing. She struggles to maintain an online friendship with former classmate Zoe who lives in LA.
At seventeen, she is old enough to realise what happens when relationships – romantic, platonic, familial – fall apart. This is the story of learning that love is worth that risk.
‘There’s no way I’m sharing actual details about my closest personal relationships. Even the fake details are embarrassing enough: like how I’d traced the lines of this pretend-boyfriend’s palm, whispered secrets to him in the dark, told him he meant the world to me, that he felt like home.’
Even so, Eliza’s initial concerns about being asked to write a personal essay as a homework assignment which is then posted on the school’s public website feel valid. Eliza might still need some coaxing to open up to the people in her life, but she should never have had to feel like she had to share her feelings with the world.
This Time It’s Real is a spectacular young adult romance novel and it will be exciting to see what Liang writes next.
Rating: Highly recommend
Book: This Time It’s Real
Author: Ann Liang
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publication Date: 7 February 2023