After getting The Kiss Quotient in one of my Book of the Month boxes (and absolutely devouring it), I added The Bride Test to my wish list immediately. When it finally showed up in my mail, I read it all in one sitting. It was just as amazing as the first book – I think I’ll read anything this author writes. Helen Hoang suddenly writes the phone book? Sign me up.
Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.
As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working…but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who’s convinced he can never return her affection.
With Esme’s time in the United States dwindling, Khai is forced to understand he’s been wrong all along. And there’s more than one way to love.
I think what makes Helen Hoang’s books so special is her attention to detail. When she writes about a character, she puts the focus into the details and never produces half baked characters. She also doesn’t compromise character’s conditions or disorders for the sake of a happy ending. She clearly carefully researches everything she writes about – from a character who has Asperger’s to an English second language woman who is looking to immigrate to the United States to better her future. It’s the way she gracefully handles these weighty topics without letting the romance get lost that really displays her talent as an author.
Having Esme move to the United States was a great way to contrast her cultural differences with those around her. It helped immerse the reader into what she was feeling – the isolation from her culture and everyone/thing she knew. However, her being a immigrant wasn’t treated as a gimmicky plot device. Having chapters set from both her point of view and Khai’s gave insight into both of their actions and their internal struggles as they each tried to adjust to their new life together.
Esme is a fantastic and unusually well characterized leading lady. She’s a strong young woman who took a leap and moved to a foreign country that she had never visited to marry a stranger she’s never met before. Her strength of character was unreal – she was adaptable and relatable and just a joy to read about. Don’t get me wrong – she wasn’t perfect by any means, but her determination to make a better future for herself and her child was incredibly admirable. Moving to a country where you don’t know anyone is a huge jump to make (speaking from experience) and the way that Esme handled it felt realistic and honest.
Khai was also a wonderful, complex character. He falls on the autism spectrum and that made it that much harder for him to accept Esme in his life when his mother springs her on him. The way he was portrayed never felt like a caricature – it felt like Helen not only drew from her own experience since being diagnosed on the spectrum, but also from extensive research about Asperger’s. The best part about how he was written was that the book didn’t conveniently ignore his Asperger’s in order to give him a happy ending. Khai and Esme don’t immediately have chemistry – it grows as they get to know each other, which felt really organic. Characters from The Kiss Quotient also made sweet little cameos throughout this book. Having these characters appear in this book was a nice nod to readers of The Kiss Quotient and a great way to give them a second epilogue – I sincerely hope that Khai and Esme appear in the third book as well.
The Bride Test is an honest and beautifully told romance with a heart of gold and exceptional characters. If you haven’t given Helen Hoang a shot, run to your nearest bookstore and pick up both The Kiss Quotient and The Bride Test ASAP. You can thank me later. 5/5.