A special thank you to Edelweiss and Penguin for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
The Bride Test is a spin off of sorts from The Kiss Quotient, Hoang's smash debut. This book is about Khai, who is Michael's cousin. He has no emotions when it comes to love or grief; he is literal, he likes when things balance (he is an accountant), and is easily irritated with others, especially when they touch his things. He thinks he is defective when in fact he is not, he is on the spectrum. His overbearing mother, Cô Ng, decides it is time for him to get married and takes matters into her own hands. She returns to Vietnam in order to find him the perfect bride.
Esme Tran is a mixed-race, single mother that lives in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City. She has always felt she doesn't belong. When Cô Ng offers her a chance to come to America to seduce her son, she accepts. This could not only be the break her little family needs, but she could also track down her biological father.
Seducing Khai proves to be incredibly difficult—instead of making Khai fall in love with her, she is falling head-over-heals for him. With her time almost up, and with Khai convinced he is unable to love, Esme feels she has failed.
But there is more than one way to love.
I found this book less provocative than The Kiss Quotient because there was more build up and tension and I certainly don't mean this as a criticism. It was more about the journey of falling in love, learning one's likes, dislikes, boundaries, and an exploration in the discovery of pleasure and consent. Esme and Khai's journey is a learning experience.
This story is smart, sassy, sexy, exactly what you would expect from a romance book. But on the flip side, Khai's struggles are real and genuine. Hoang really shines here and brings forward her voice and experience also having Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Hoang's character development is incredible. She pens characters that are layered, complex, and flawed, yet are incredibly endearing. I adored Esme and learned by reading the Author's Note that she is loosely-based on Hoang's own mother who was also an uneducated immigrant (I encourage you to read this, it is informative and touching). There is also humour sprinkled throughout—I especially enjoyed Quân and the dynamic between him and his brother.
Helen Hoang is a gift. She brings to life characters that are not considered mainstream, but their stories need to be told and are just as valuable, enlightening, and entertaining.