Title: The Bride Test
Author: Helen Hoang
Published in 2019 by Atlantic Books
Genre: Romance (adult)
Rating: ★★★ – it was okay
I received this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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.
I went into this book with high expectations because I absolutely adored Helen Hoang’s previous novel, The Kiss Quotient. Getting approved for this book on Netgalley was such a joyous moment, not only because it was one of my most anticipated reads of the year but also because being an international reader on Netgalley at the moment is rough.
Unfortunately, I didn’t love The Bride Test nearly as much as I did The Kiss Quotient and I’ll get into the reasons why today.
First, let’s discuss what I liked about the novel.
The autism representation is one of my favorite aspects of Helen Hoang’s novels. It is #ownvoices in that regard as well. Both The Kiss Quotient and The Bride Test have main characters who are neurodiverse. Khai is autistic, like Stella is in the previous novel. While both are autistic, I think the author does a fantastic job at showing that people experience autism in extremely different ways. Khai can’t handle light touch, as it causes him physical pain. He’s not great with touch in general, and needs warning beforehand so he can prepare. I love that the main characters communicate on this, and that Khai tells Esme what he needs and what she can’t do. It’s so important to have a proper discussion, and I’m glad that happened.
Another aspect of the book I adored was the importance of family. I love a good family in novels because I feel that for a lot of people, family is one of the most important parts of life. Khai’s family is so wonderful and supportive, even though his mom went to Vietnam to find a wife for him… In Esme’s life, family is equally (if not even more) important. Her mom, grandmother, and daughter are her entire life and she wants to give them the world.
Lastly, I also really loved Esme’s story. She moves to the US for two months, and has to adapt to living in an entirely different country and culture. Helen Hoang shows the difficulties of that experience through small things like not noticing the smell of fish sauce, startling at the lack of a garbage smell, etc. Esme’s story line is about making your own path in life, and not letting the opportunities you get pass you by. I absolutely loved it.
[Something I forgot to mention before posting this review this morning… I really appreciated how the first sex scene unfolded between these two characters. While it was intensely awkward to read about and I was suffering from secondhand embarrassment the entire time, it was so real. It wasn’t “perfect” like it so often is in romance novels.]
Unfortunately, it’s time to move on to the aspects I didn’t like.
Maybe it’s because I haven’t read a lot of adult romance novels lately, but I was caught off guard by some things in this book. Like the neverending references to Khai’s dick. I’m not even kidding. I can’t tell you how many (terrible) euphemisms I had to endure. In the first 20% of the novel, it’s on almost every page. EVERY PAGE has a reference to his genitals, and I’m tired. I’m also side-eyeing the author for the incredible unsubtle ways of telling the reader that he is… well-endowed. Why did I need to know that??
The sex scene at about 85% of the way through the ARC also made me incredibly uncomfortable. If you’ve read the book, please talk to me about this.
I was also irritated by what I started to call Esme’s absolute idiot moments. Throughout the novel, Helen Hoang tells us that Esme is quite smart through different ways, for example the test she takes at the end of the novel. However, those are all things told to the reader. What we are shown, is the complete opposite. She knows Khai’s mom is rich because of her clothes, bag, restaurant, etc. And while Khai doesn’t live in a villa, he doesn’t hesitate to spend money on things he deems worthy of it – like his car. So why does Esme constantly remind us that she doesn’t understand why everyone thinks Khai is rich? It just makes no sense to me. It’s these small things that undermined what the other told us about Esme.
Lastly, I can’t help but wish they had the conversation about Khai being autistic earlier. They bring Esme to the US for him, make her move in with him, and never tell her about it. It makes absolutely no sense to me? Obviously, if they want her to win his heart wouldn’t it be easier if she knew what not to do at the very start? That way, she would never do something that causes him pain or discomfort. Instead, they let her blunder around, causing both of the characters pain. It makes no sense to me.
While I enjoyed quite a few aspects of this novel, I was a tad disappointed by the overall reading experience. I still adore Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient, and will continue to read the novels she releases. This one simply wasn’t it for me.
Have you read The Bride Test? What did you think of it?