Earlier this year I read and fell hard for Helen Hoang’ debut The Kiss Quotient. I was taken with her non-traditional protagonists and immediately added her next book, The Bride Test, to my library request list. I’m glad that I did, I enjoyed this sophomore outing more than its predecessor.
The Bride Test expands the world Hoang created in The Kiss Quotient. Khai Diep is one of Michael’s cousins we met in The Kiss Quotient (his brother Quan also features and will be the focus of the third book in the series out next year) and the book opens with his mother traveling to Vietnam and interviewing possible brides for him, without his knowledge. Khai’s autism means that he processes emotions differently and following another cousin’s death in his teens he’s convinced that he is defective, that he doesn’t have the capacity to love and for that reason he steadfastly avoids relationships.
Khai’s mother finds Esme (the name she takes when she comes to the United States) working as a cleaner in the bathrooms of a swanky hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. A mixed-race woman from an incredibly poor background Esme thinks this is an opportunity she can’t pass up – it would be life changing for her grandmother, mother, and daughter (and herself although she doesn’t put much value in her own needs in the beginning). She decides to try to get Khai to fall for her, without fully knowing what she is getting herself into. Khai is as honest with her as he can be, and she quickly falls for him, although each of their particular issues keeps it from being easy. In fact, it all goes dramatically off the rails before it rights itself.
I’m not doing a great job of capturing the spirit of the book. Hoang does a much better job in her author’s note when she explains how these two characters ended up on the page in the first place. Initially, Esme was not the romantic heroine Hoang meant to write, she was supposed to be the also ran. Then, Esme took center stage in Hoang’s writing and she realized she had exactly the right person to talk to about both the character of Esme, but also what it is like to fall in love with and marry a man with autism. This and Hoang’s unpacking of how a neuroatypical brain like Khai’s functions (his reaction to solving his misunderstanding with Esme after their first night together was particularly well handled) made this book very, very good. Both characters are just the type off people you root for, a very loveable pair on the whole.