The Heart Principle was delayed a year while its author Helen Hoang dealt with some personal traumas which she goes into in depth in the Author’s Note. Many of those traumas feed directly into the re-worked plot of this book. I’m firmly in the camp that this is a romance, even if the romance plotline finds itself uncentered through sections of the work, but this is certainly not a rom-com style book as its cover would want you to believe – in fact I have no idea who that woman is, but she certainly isn’t Anna Sun.
The story we are dealing with here is that of violinist Anna Sun, who accidentally achieved success with a viral YouTube video, and in the fallout of that is burned out from her attempts to live up to the expectations that moment created. When Anna’s long-term boyfriend announced he wanted an open relationship before making a final commitment, Anna copes with it by deciding (with the help of her girlfriends) to take the opportunity to expand her own sexual horizons with a string of one-night stands. The more unacceptable the men, the better. Enter tattooed, motorcycle-riding Quan Diep whom after two years of working through cancer treatments lets himself be convinced to slowly work his way back into the dating pool. After being matched on an app and a frankly delightful first digital interaction they decide to have a one-night stand. The first attempt fails, as does their second, and their third, but because Quan sees and accepts Anna on an unconditional level that she has just started to understand herself through therapy, an emotional relationship develops, and the pair decide to give this relationship a real shot. However, when tragedy strikes Anna’s family, she takes on a role she is ill-suited for, until the burden of expectations threatens to destroy her. Anna and Quan have to fight for their chance at love, but to do that, they also have to fight for themselves.
The first part of this book is, to me, a note-perfect opposites attract romance novella. The second part is a devastatingly honest look at the cost of being a care giver and the struggles of maintaining a relationship when the partners aren’t able to be together as much as they would like. The third section is the story of the recovery from rock bottom burnout, and a look at love as action, accepting the person exactly as they are, caring through joyful times and painful times. The parts aren’t equal in their execution, and in fact there are a handful of problems lurking under the surface that are keeping this at four stars instead of five.
This isn’t a light read, it is in fact miles away from that and should have come with a litany of content warnings (see below). The author herself says that this is the book of hers to pick up when the reader needs a catharsis rather than a fun, feel-good experience. That is underselling it. This story is sad more often than it isn’t and it will likely make you feel those negative emotions as well, because Hoang is an excellent writer. But that isn’t really my problem, my problem is how dramatically underwritten section three is. It undermines the themes leading up to it (especially the burden of caregiving) in a substantial way. Anna is essentially shut down for an entire year, and Quan takes the role of her primary carer. However, his perspective of that time is largely absent. Part Three just isn’t given the real estate it needs, page wise, to marry the previous two sections and that’s a damned shame because Hoang writes what she knows, and her books are always worth the time invested in them, even when they fall slightly short. Whenever Quan and Anna are together, it’s beautiful, I just wish Hoang had managed to find a better balance.
Content Warnings: suicidal ideation, body dysmorphia (male), gaslighting (particularly re: autism spectrum disorder diagnosis), severe anxiety/depression, ableism, creative burnout, cancer, sterility, death of a loved one, abuse and bullying from family members, emotional blackmail, going against a loved one’s wishes during end of life, caregiver burnout, autism burnout, over-exercising.
Bingo Square: Rep