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.
Warnings: graphic sex scenes
Note: this is not a YA novel
Sexy and cute seems to be the theme for Hoang novels, and The Bride Test absolutely follows that pattern. Once again, a romance between an autistic and an allistic character, The Bride Test has a arranged marriage (sorta) trope where Khai’s mom gets him a bride back from Vietnam, despite his explicit wishes against engaging in any relationships. Esme, meanwhile, has a daughter back home, and wishes for a better life for her, and also wants to search for her own father, so she agrees to become his fiancee.
The best thing about the book is, of course, the romance, but I’ll get to that soon. First, I want to talk humor – The Bride Test has more of a rom-com feel with us getting to see Khai quite panicking about his stubborn boner for her, as he is trying to adhere to his sister’s gentlemanly rules. He’s all very ‘conceal don’t feel’ while she is trying her hardest to seduce him (and falling in love with him in turn), which makes for an interesting combination when combined with misunderstandings, and Khai’s brother Quan being the main cheerleader for their relationship. There’s like a whole scene where Khai, Quan and Michael have a conversation about sex that is quite hilarious.
Coming back to the romance, it was developed beautifully in increments – it was like that cutesy ‘Love is in the Small Things’ book but with lot more about boundaries and how to touch etc! They are cute, and frustrating in turns – because they fit so well and understand each other. Esme came first with the intention of securing a happier life for her family and her daughter, but as the book progresses, she decides she wants to do it for love, too. Her situation as an immigrant is touched upon, and the insecurities attached to it are part of her character, something she resolves by taking things into her own hands. Khai, meanwhile, has to let go of his stubborn belief that he cannot offer love in a relationship and while it isn’t a lightbulb moment like Stella had, it is a liberating one that was tied into a past grief. There aren’t as many sex scenes as the previous one, but there are more than enough cute and funny moments to make up for it. I did find the ending a bit rushed, though, even though it was one of my favorite rom-com tropes.
Overall, a cute and hilarious, slightly steamy romance!
Is it diverse? Khai is Vietnamese-American and autistic (OwnVoices), Esme is biracial (Vietnamese and American), most of the secondary characters in the book are Vietnamese
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Berkley, via Edelweiss.
Also by Helen Hoang
Releases on May 7, 2019