- Publisher: Berkley (May 7, 2019)
- Publication Date: May 7, 2019
- Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
- Language: English
I read The Kiss Quotient last summer and was delighted with Stella Lane’s character. She has Asperger’s Syndrome and Hoang does an exceptional job of giving us a glimpse of how Stella processes the world. I’m a massive fan of unconventional female leads and Stella reminded me of Eleonor Oliphant in Eleonor Oliphant is Competely Fine (another excellent read).
In The Bride Test, she gives us Khai Diep, an autistic male lead. His mother, desperate over the fact that he doesn’t date, goes to Vietnam to get him the perfect wife. The title refers to the test she devises to help her select a suitable bride for her son, a test Esmeralda Tran, a hotel maid, easily passes. For the sake of her mother, grandmother and daughter, Esme accepts the proposal to go to America with the purpose of persuading Khai to marry her before the end of the summer. Instead of simply seducing Khai, she falls in love with him as well and the novel hinges on whether Khai can divest himself of the idea that he doesn’t have feelings to admit he loves Esme, too.
If you read all the reviews, you will get a sense of why this book is so successful – dual POVs with distinct character voices; a swoon-worthy male lead who is kind, considerate, intelligent, a bit clueless and utterly unaware of his worth; a resilient female lead to understands her value and is willing to fight for her future and the future of her daughter.
But this book impacted me for other reasons, as well. Khai’s autism isn’t really acknowledged by his family. Therefore, to some degree, he is left to his own resources to interpret for himself what his unique way of processing the world means. Having years of experience teaching children, I’ve learned that if we as adults don’t define in clear terms what makes an exceptional child unique, whether they have autism, Asperger’s or giftedness, they will rationalize for themselves what makes them different and many times, they don’t choose the best explanation.
Khai believes he is simply incapable of love and grief and comes to the conclusion that he is bad when he fails to respond the way others do to the death of his best friend, Andy. This conditions his behavior for years, until Esme comes along and proves otherwise. But the point I’m making is this: if Khai’s autism had been addressed in a way that made clear to him and his family that he simply has a different way of processing stimuli and emotions, he might not have drawn the conclusion that he was bad. Hoang nails the power of these mistaken self-beliefs and how they can negatively impact our lives, simply because the adults left the explanation of a complex dynamic in the hands of a child instead of acknowledging the thing directly. Khai’s journey of self understanding and acceptance makes me love him a thousand times more.
The Bride Test also contains elements of the immigrant narrative. Hoang explains in the author’s note how Esme moved from being a peripheral character to the main love interest in the novel. Hoang derived her inspiration for Esme’s character from her mother, and used the writing of this book as an opportunity to get to know her own mother’s immigration story. This made an impression on me. As a first generation Puerto Rican, born and raised in the United States, I will never know what it’s like to pick up your family, leave a way of life to come a country where you don’t speak the language, armed only with hope and a dream. I lived in Europe for many years but I had a good job, knew the languages and had the expectation of returning home some day.
Stories like Hoang’s mother, Esme or my grandparents are completely different. We come to understand these experiences by becoming familiar with our parent’s histories. There’s so much in Esme’s determination and spirit that I recognized from the stories of my parents and grandparents, what they did to go from being barely literate farm workers to entrepreneurs to having children who went on to go to college and beyond. That’s why I was rooting for Esme, independent of her relationship with Khai.
Romances like these are why I love this genre so much.
5 enthusiastic stars.