Title: This Time It’s Real
Author: Ann Liang
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now
Summary: 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?
Review: [THIS TIME IT’S REAL contains a very brief mention of a stalker and a few scenes featuring online hate comments.]
If you’re looking for a pool- or beachside read this summer, THIS TIME IT’S REAL by Ann Liang would be an excellent choice. This is a cute contemporary romance with a lot of heart—after all, who doesn’t love it when two lonely people fake date their way into real feelings?
Eliza, our heroine, has been traveling all over the world with her family thanks to her mother’s job. At this point in her life, she’s no stranger to watching the vast majority of her friendships fade with distance and time, so she hasn’t put much effort into forming anything lasting at her new school. She has her family, and she has one best friend, and she’s otherwise just trying to hang on. And it’s Eliza’s loneliness that makes the first real (awkward) interaction between her and Caz resonate so much: for a second, she realizes he’s alone in his own way, too, despite his stardom.
Fake dating can be done for comparatively shallow/short-term reasons (e.g., a family event, a school reunion), so it’s fun when an author can build something with more longevity. I cackled at the scene where Eliza first proposes a mutually beneficial, time-bound relationship between her and Caz—there were some great comedic moments in that scene and throughout the rest of the book. I also appreciated that the author crafted the setup in such a way that I felt it was a fair deal between the characters, even if Eliza was the one who was desperate enough to propose it in the first place. Caz being in charge of much of their “chemistry testing” (or, date fodder for Eliza’s essays) helped make it feel like they were invested on equal grounds and was definitely a point in his favor when it came to wanting the two of them to get together.
Of course, the best part of fake dating is when the characters catch real feelings. I won’t go into much detail about that, but just know that I felt the payoff was very much worth it in my opinion. Eliza’s reactions to her own growing feelings were very well done, and I liked how Eliza’s emotional journey played out and how her and Caz’s relationship ended up against the backdrop of a slightly messy ending.
Recommendation: Get it now if you’re a fan of fake dating and related tropes. THIS TIME IT’S REAL is a great summer read for anyone looking for a contemporary romance with a lot of heart, and I’m very happy I got my hands on author Ann Liang’s latest book.