In brief: Khai is different. He can’t feel big emotions, which means love it not for him. His mother begs to differ and invites a girl from Vietnam, Esme, to spend the summer with him and change his mind. Will it work?
The good: Esme + Khai = brilliant characters
The not-so-good: I have to wait another year for the next book in the series?!
Why I chose it: Fallen head over heels for Helen Hoang’s writing and characters – thanks Allen & Unwin for the copy.
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Setting: San Francisco, California, USA
Rating: 10 out of 10
Last year, The Kiss Quotient was one of my favourite books. This year, I think The Bride Test will be right up there. Helen Hoang writes romantic fiction with such freshness and detail that you can’t help but fall for her characters and their world. This is the kind of read that pastes big goofy smiles on your face and reminds you of why reading is such a delight.
If you haven’t read The Kiss Quotient, where have you been? Seriously though, The Bride Test can be read as a standalone very easily because Khai, the main character, only got just enough page time in the previous book for readers to notice his star potential. If you have read the first book, you can delight in a wedding that occurs during the book. This story focuses on Khai and his quest for a bride. Except that Khai is not interested in getting married because he is of the firm belief that he is incapable of love or any kind of giant overwhelming feelings. In true Khai fashion, he thinks that is unfair on any woman because he can’t love her back how she would expect. Khai has autism and his life is carefully organised, right down to haircuts. Khai’s mum disagrees with his assessment of his ability to feel and decides to go to Vietnam to find him a bride. In a hotel bathroom, she finds My and is impressed by her independence, offering her a summer in America to try to win Khai’s heart. As a poor single mother, this could turn My’s fortunes around and give her an opportunity to meet her long-lost father. So she accepts the offer and giving herself an American name (Esmeralda), she flies to San Francisco for a big summer. Khai is unique but resistant to Esme’s charms. The problem is that Esme is falling for him, but can she convince Khai that he can love her?
Esme is a true delight (as all Helen Hoang’s characters are). She’s not in the US solely to get a man, but to educate herself – learn English, finish high school and work (while managing to keep most of this a secret). She’s determined, independent and fiercely caring. She wants to show Khai that she has knowledge outside of education, cooking and gardening. She is also a very caring person to Khai, his friends and family. Khai is also a sweetheart, concerned for everyone else but managing to screw it up at really awkward moments. He knows what he’s good at (book learning) and when he applies that to feelings, it doesn’t always go smoothly. (That’s where his brother Quan shines, as a caring brother and man of the world. I can’t wait to read his story next, it’s sure to be funny and hot). Their story is unconventional and cute but with a good dose of what it’s like to be a fish out of water in a new country. Esme’s stumbles with the language, the comparative wealth of the American people and the hoops for a student visa and green card…they are big hurdles to climb and gave me even more respect for Esme. The writing is easy, approachable and just full of fun.
The ending of The Bride Test was gorgeous. I can see this making an excellent film as the finale had humour, almost-too-late plot elements and a very happy ending. The epilogue was great in that it wrapped things up, but in true Khai and Esme fashion, not how you expected. Helen Hoang, you’re on my list of Must Read Anything You Write.