Book Review

This Time It’s Real by Ann Liang

This Time It’s Real is a YA celebrity romance that focuses a lot on identity and fitting in.

Eliza Lin’s mother is a corporate crisis manager, and as a result of her mom’s career she’s spent her childhood living all over the world. Now she’s in Beijing, and even though she’s Chinese, she doesn’t feel like she fits in at her new school any better than her last one.

Eliza’s passion is writing, and for a school assignment she’s supposed to write an essay about an emotional connection; the problem is Eliza doesn’t have many of those. She makes friends, but then when she moves they inevitably drift apart. So rather than write about something real, she writes about falling in love with a boy. The story is fictional (although it’s not supposed to be) and is published on the school’s website. Pretty soon everyone is wondering who Eliza’s mysterious boyfriend is.

Somehow this essay gets the attention of an online magazine and they offer Eliza an internship if she keeps writing about her relationship. It’s Eliza’s dream job.

Caz Song is an actor who is Eliza’s classmate. He and Eliza enter into a mutually beneficial fake-dating scenario. They pretend to date, giving Eliza’s (fake) relationship column more credibility (and interest), and she’ll help Caz with his college applications and essays. Of course things change when the pair start having feelings for each other, and when rumors that they’re whole relationship is a lie start to come out.

The whole magazine essay/ writing about my famous boyfriend element of this book was a little hand-wavey. I’m not sure high school essays go viral or that digital magazines read them, but also what the hell do I know? I also find it kinda exploitative and icky that Eliza’s editor knew she was in a relationship with a celebrity and pushed her for more content about that, since both Eliza and Caz are still minors.

The fake dating aspect of the book worked really well for me. Eliza is a person who needs a plan for everything. She wants control of every aspect of her life because her living situation (always having to move) is beyond her control entirely. Caz has a more laid back attitude, and he totally plays up the “careless playboy” archetype that he’s been cast as. But they also complement each other: she helps him buckle down a little, and he helps her relax. I want to add that this book stops at kissing, and so might be a good fit for a younger-than-teen reader who enjoys romance. Also I read Bertrice Small at thirteen, so I reiterate, what the hell do I know?

A big part of this novel is that neither Caz or Eliza feel like they fit in. Eliza’s situation is complicated–her parents are Chinese, but she’s grown up around the world. People ask her if she’s happy to be home, but China doesn’t feel like home to her at all. She’s also lonely. Eliza is used to a cycle where she makes friends, and then sees them slowly drift away. In the beginning of the book her most recent close friend keeps up with video calls and chat sessions, but then another friend starts consuming her time and Eliza feels the pain as their relationship becomes less important.

Caz isn’t a typical teenager. He’s dividing his time between school and acting, and feels like he doesn’t belong entirely in either world. His parents also view his acting career as something he’s doing “for now” and despite his commercial success, want to apply himself to more serious things.

The joy of reading It’s Real This Time is watching the two protagonists who have well-deserved walls built up, slowly open up to each other and allow themselves to be vulnerable to caring for another person. All of this leads to a really genuine slow-burn teen romance. The initial premise of the book, with Eliza’s internship and essay, felt a little weak to me, but substantial character growth and a charming romance more than made up for it. 


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This Time It’s Real by Ann Liang

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  1. Kareni says:

    This sounds charming, and I can identify with the heroine as I attended a dozen schools before graduating from high school. Thanks for your review, @Elyse.

  2. Lisa F says:

    I’ve read a lot of celeb romances so far this year and I’m intrigued by this one!

  3. PurpleJen says:

    This sounds good, and that cover is really cute. Might pick this one up.

  4. Vasha says:

    The premise is definitely icky. It’s questionable to require anybody to publicly write about their intimate emtions–and teenagers just at their most vulnerable age? If this doesn’t get called out anywhere in the book I’d side-eye the author.

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