Some books are like a long cool drink of water on a hot day: to be consumed greedily because it just feels so good going down. Obviously, since I brought it up, one of these books is Helen Hoang’s The Bride Test, which has just dethroned its predecessor, The Kiss Quotient, as my favorite contemporary romance novel, shoot maybe even favorite romance novel, of all time.
The Bride Test follows My, a half-Vietnamese half-American hotel cleaner who dropped out of high school when she got pregnant with her beloved daughter, to the dismay of her ultimately supportive single mom and grandmother. It’s while cleaning a hotel bathroom that she runs into Nga, a Vietnamese-American who’s come back to the motherland in search of a bride for her autistic son, Khai. Nga thinks that My would be the perfect candidate for daughter-in-law. My isn’t as into the idea but her mother persuades her that a no-strings summer in America getting to know a handsome if aloof single dude will also give her time to look for her father, who left Vietnam before My was even born. And so My reinvents herself as Esme and prepares for three months in a brand new world.
Khai, of course, is completely horrified when his mother tells him what she’s done. It isn’t so much that he protests the idea of an arranged marriage as that he hates the idea of marriage altogether, not out of any absurd hatred of the institution but because he’s convinced that he’s incapable of love. So he’s completely thrown for a loop when he meets the delightful Esme and finds himself increasingly drawn to her. Guys like him, who’ve been accused of being stone-hearted all their lives because they don’t display emotions the same way neurotypical people do, can’t fall in love… can they?
This book, about the romance between an autistic Asian-American man and a Vietnamese immigrant determined to prove herself, was just about perfect on every level. Whether describing the interior life of someone with autism or the emotional and financial struggles of the recently immigrated, it’s sensitive and smart, and I cried and laughed and absolutely swallowed this book up in a single evening. I’d been concerned when I read the preview at the end of The Kiss Quotient that there would be an obvious missing heiress connection here, and I’m glad that that didn’t pan out, tho there was a smidge of the dreaded dxm towards the end. But that’s sometimes what you need for a satisfying Happily Ever After, and The Bride Test delivers on that last in spadefuls.
I don’t think any review could do justice to just how unique this novel is, showcasing the under-represented in contemporary romance with empathy and wit. It deserves all the acclaim.