Friday, May 31, 2019

The Bride Test (The Kiss Quotient #2) by Helen Hoang

* * * * 1/4

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.

Source: advance e-galley provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

I, like so many readers in Romancelandia, fell so hard for The Kiss Quotient. It was one of the sweetest, sexiest and most tender novels from last year. With such high praise, The Bride Test has a lot to live up to.

First off, The Bride Test has a different feel. Where Stella wanted to experience romance in The Kiss Quotient, there's a lack of it in The Bride Test, at least initially. That's because Esme has been foisted upon Khai as a potential bride by his worried and well-meaning mother. Esme agrees to leave Vietnam for the States where she's expected to woo him and if all goes well, the family will be planning a wedding by summer's end. It's a tall order to expect of someone who's never met the potential groom-to-be and who also happens to have no interest whatsoever in getting hitched. Khai has autism which impacts his interpersonal skills so he doesn't get social cues or read people the same way someone who isn't on the autism spectrum would. The only person with whom he ever got on with and who understood him was his cousin. Khai's convinced himself that he's this dark, broken person unworthy of anything good. So he'd rather stick to his routine and be content with the way things are.

I'm a bit confused by Esme. She's sweet and stronger than I could've imagined. You'd have to be if you're going to uproot yourself for a mad plan like this. But she has a lot at stake back home so she can't turn down the offer Khai's mom puts in front of her. She doesn't understand Khai's behaviour and is unaware of his condition. All she can think to do is try to make his very bland bachelor lifestyle less bachelor-y and more home-y. She tries to introduce a little bit of home by introducing traditional Vietnamese things she likes in hopes that they'll catch his attention. I certainly was not expecting some of the other stuff she winds up doing such as assimilating herself into American culture and going to school. This is what I mean about how strong she is. She has no family here and misses those she left behind, but she's making the most while she's in America. And for all his complaining about her, Khai does get used to having her around and wouldn't you know, starts developing feelings though they feel pretty alien to him. Esme not only baffles him and tests him, she's also patient with him which is something that he's not accustomed to.

The Bride Test is like continuing education for me about autism, at least through the lens of Khai's character. Once again, simple interactions that we take for granted are significant for him. As Khai finds his orderly life changing, he's forced to learn to interact in ways he's never had to before. I felt as if I was also learning something new from a different perspective as well. This is what I love so much about Hoang's writing - that she takes these seemingly banal moments and brings deeper meaning to them. There's a scene where Esme gently touches Khai and his reaction is of pain. He can't tolerate soft touches and when he explains what that sensation feels like to her, he brings context to it and with that empathy.

I admire Helen Hoang's honesty in writing about how autism affects daily interactions. Any time an author can break down and illustrate human behaviour into different parts to make us see it in fresh light, is an accomplishment worthy of all the praise. I am so grateful to be able to read a romance that comes with its own set of unique circumstances. It's a bit of a slowburn that gradually gains traction as they start to click. The Bride Test is warm, funny, empowering and ultimately, a gem of a book. 

~ Bel

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