The Bride Test, by Helen Hoang

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I have spent the past few weekends hate-watching two “romantic” Chinese dramas*, switching between them whenever a particular plot development became unbearably stupid. In the midst of this cinematic garbage fire I paused to read Helen Hoang's The Bride Test, and—at least in contrast—it felt like one of the great love stories of all time.

Hoang's novel centers around a modern arranged marriage: Khai Diep is convinced that his autism makes him incapable of deep feeling. His mother is equally convinced that he's wrong, and decides to take matters into her own hands. She sets off for Vietnam to find her son the perfect wife, and finds her in Esme Tran, a pretty, energetic hotel housekeeper with a young daughter and a lot of thwarted ambition. Khai's mother arranges for the two to spend the summer together, and while Khai and Esme both have some serious concerns about the situation, it is soon impossible to deny their mutual attraction.

It's rare for me to read a romance novel that I am unreservedly enthusiastic about, but I loved this story. Some of it was due to my own interests and experiences—I've worked as a cleaner! I have sensory processing issues! My family are immigrants! I even considered becoming an accountant!—but the rest is a testament to Hoang's endearing, nuanced, plausibly flawed characters. I had few minor quibbles (the romance felt a little rushed, and Esme's daughter didn't add much to the story), but mostly I'm just relieved that I picked this book up when I did—without it, those Chinese dramas might have had me swearing off the romance genre entirely.

*Meteor Garden 2018 and Well-Intended Love, in case you're wondering.
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Posted by: Julianka

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