By Saffron Coutts.
We are very happy to welcome Ann Liang to The Reading Corner to discuss her upcoming release If You Could See the Sun, out on October 11th!
Alice Sun has always felt invisible at her elite Beijing international boarding school, where she’s the only scholarship student among China’s most rich and influential teens. But then she starts uncontrollably turning invisible—actually invisible.
When her parents drop the news that they can no longer afford her tuition, even with the scholarship, Alice hatches a plan to monetize her strange new power—she’ll discover the scandalous secrets her classmates want to know, for a price.
But as the tasks escalate from petty scandals to actual crimes, Alice must decide if it’s worth losing her conscience—or even her life.
Hello Ann, before I start I just wanted to let you know how much I loved this book and how much I know it would have meant to my younger teenage self! The unique and fresh take on ‘superpowers’ kept me gripped enough that I did not want to put it down.
In the letter to the reader, you mention how much of yourself is woven into the book. With that in mind did you find the writing process a healing experience for yourself, and did you have the intention for the reader to somewhat feel this as well?
Hi! Thank you so much for your kind words about my book! It’s interesting to think about, because at the time of writing this book, I’d only just graduated high school two years ago—close enough that my worries and insecurities as a teenager still felt very fresh in my memory, but also distant enough that I was able to view those worries and insecurities from a new perspective. As a result of that, I think it ended up being a healing experience, even though that wasn’t necessarily what I intended when I first started drafting it. I did want readers to feel seen and comforted, so it always makes me really happy when early readers tell me parts of the book really resonated with them in that way.
A main part of the novel is the powers that Alice inherits, I could not help but notice that at times the invisibility felt like a metaphor for a panic attack. Was this purposeful?
One of my favorite things about the comments I’ve gotten regarding Alice’s invisibility is that everyone has their own interpretation of what it could symbolise, so I don’t want to come in and strictly define what the metaphor is or isn’t. I will say that I did deliberately want Alice’s superpowers to be tied to, or reflective of, her changing emotional state. I find that really fascinating in both the books I read and the books I write: the blurring of the physical with the metaphysical, or the internal with the external.
Your book opens the conversation surrounding classism, I found it interesting that throughout the novel you chose food to, at times, highlight these differences. What inspired you to do this?
I wanted to portray the classism Alice experiences in her day-to-day life through the details, and I found that food is a really great vehicle for that. The difference between how a roast duck might be prepared and served, for instance—that’s the kind of subtler thing that Alice’s wealthy classmates might not even notice to begin with, but is a very real source of resentment and frustration for her.
Alice acknowledges that she feels as if she does not fit the beauty expectations of a Chinese girl. Do you think there is much being done to avoid this problem in current times? Furthermore, is there anything you personally think could be done better by major Companies/ Magazines / Media?
I think this can unfortunately be a common experience when you’re trying to conform to the beauty standards of two different cultures. Personally, I remember that as a teenager, I would go through these phases of following Western makeup trends and then Eastern beauty trends, sometimes even switching every few weeks, and wondering which one suited me best. I hope that seeing more Chinese characters on book covers or on the big screen can make a difference for teenagers today, but of course there’s always more that can be done.
When you set out to write the novel, was it always your intention to get Alice to cross her moral boundaries and reach a breaking point as the novel came to a close? Do you think it was essential for Alice to find herself again?
Yes, definitely—because Alice is so stubborn and wants so much so badly, I knew from the very beginning that she would need to lose everything in order to re-evaluate the systems she has in place and the way she views herself and the world.
If there was one piece of advice you could give Alice, what would it be?
To stop being so hard on herself.
It felt bitter sweet finishing the novel and saying goodbye to the characters, so I have to ask will there be a sequel at Alice’s new school?
I really miss the characters, so it means a lot to hear that! Ultimately, I wrote If You Could See the Sun as a standalone, and so I believe that’s the format it’s best suited for.
I admired that you subtly built Alice and Henry’s romance as the book progressed, but did not make it the focal point of the new reality she was entering. Do you think Alice had to find love within herself before she even considered the possibility of Henry?
I’m so glad you think that! Honestly, I loved writing the romance—that was one of the most enjoyable parts of the drafting process for me. But I also wanted to make sure that Henry doesn’t just come in and solve all of Alice’s problems; rather, he’s there to accompany her as she grows and learns from her own mistakes.
What message did you want to convey to the younger generation reading your book?
I really just want them to know that they’re seen, and they’re not alone, and no matter their circumstances or how out of place they might feel at times, they’re more than enough.
Ann Liang is a recent graduate of the University of Melbourne. Born in Beijing, she grew up travelling back and forth between China and Australia, but somehow ended up with an American accent. When she isn’t stressing out over her college assignments or writing, she can be found making over-ambitious to-do lists, binge-watching dramas, and having profound conversations with her pet labradoodle about who’s a good dog.
Ann’s Instagram: @annliangwrites
Discover more interviews here.
Leave a Reply