From the USA Today bestselling author of The Kiss Quotient comes a romantic novel about love that crosses international borders and all boundaries of the heart...
Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he's defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.
As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can't turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn't go as planned. Esme's lessons in love seem to be working...but only on herself. She's hopelessly smitten with a man who's convinced he can never return her affection.
With Esme's time in the United States dwindling, Khai is forced to understand he's been wrong all along. And there's more than one way to love.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Helen Hoang is that shy person who never talks. Until she does. And the worst things fly out of her mouth. She read her first romance novel in eighth grade and has been addicted ever since. In 2016, she was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in line with what was previously known as Asperger's Syndrome. Her journey inspired The Kiss Quotient.
Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
Copyright © 2018 Helen Hoang
Ten years ago
San Jose, California
Khai was supposed to be crying. He knew he was supposed to be crying. Everyone else was.
But his eyes were dry.
If they stung, it was due to the heavy incense fogging the funeral parlor’s reception room. Was he sad? He thought he was sad. But he should be sadder. When your best friend died like this, you were supposed to be destroyed. If this were a Vietnamese opera, his tears would be forming rivers and drowning everyone.
Why was his mind clear? Why was he thinking about the homework assignment that was due tomorrow? Why was he still functioning?
His cousin Sara had sobbed so hard she’d needed to rush to the bathroom to vomit. She was still there now—he suspected—being sick over and over. Her mom, Dì Mai, sat stiffly in the front row, palms flat together and head bowed. Khai’s mom patted her back from time to time, but she remained unresponsive. Like Khai, she shed no tears, but that was because she’d cried them all out days before. The family was worried about her. She’d withered down to her skeleton since they’d gotten the call.
Rows of Buddhist monks in yellow robes blocked his view of the open casket, but that was a good thing. Though the morticians had done their best, the body looked misshapen and wrong. That was not the sixteen-year-old boy who used to be Khai’s friend and favorite cousin. That was not Andy.
Andy was gone.
The only parts of him that survived were the memories in Khai’s head. Stick fights and sword fights, wrestling matches that Khai never won but refused to lose. Khai would rather break both of his own arms than call Andy his daddy. Andy said Khai was pathologically stubborn. Khai insisted he merely had principles. He still remembered their long walks home when the weight of the sun was heavier than their book-filled backpacks and the conversations that had taken place during those walks.
Even now, he could hear his cousin scoffing at him. The specific circumstances eluded him, but the words remained.
Nothing gets to you. It’s like your heart is made of stone.
He hadn’t understood Andy then. He was beginning to now.
The droning of Buddhist chants filled the room, low, off-key syllables spoken in a language no one understood. It flowed over and around him and vibrated in his head, and he couldn’t stop shaking his leg even though people had given him looks. A furtive glance at his watch confirmed that, yes, this had been going on for hours. He wanted the noise to stop. He could almost envision himself crawling into the coffin and shutting the lid to block the sound. But then he’d be stuck in a tight space with a corpse, and he wasn’t sure if that was an improvement over his current predicament.
If Andy were here—alive and here—they’d escape together and find something to do, even if it was just going outside to kick rocks around the parking lot. Andy was good that way. He was always there when you needed him. Except for now.
Khai’s big brother sat beside him, but he knew Quan wouldn’t want to leave early. Funerals existed for people like Quan. He needed the closure or whatever it was people got from them. With his intimidating build and the new tattoos on his neck and arms, Quan looked like one badass motherfucker, but his eyes were rimmed red. From time to time, he discreetly brushed the moisture from his cheeks. Just like always, Khai wished he could be more like his brother.
A metal bowl rang, and the chanting stopped. Relief was instant and dizzying, like an enormous pressure had suddenly dissolved. The monks worked with the pallbearers to close the casket, and soon a procession filed sedately down the center aisle. Because he disliked standing in lines and the claustrophobic press of bodies, Khai stayed seated as Quan got to his feet, squeezed his shoulder once, and joined the exodus.
He watched as relatives trudged past. Some cried openly. Others were more stoic, but their sadness was obvious even to him. Aunts, uncles, cousins, distant relations, and friends of the family all supported each other, joined together by this thing called grief. As usual, Khai was not a part of it.
A group of older women that consisted of his mom, Dì Mai, and two of his other aunts brought up the end of the line because of a near-fainting spell, sticking close in adulthood just like everyone said they had as young girls. If it weren’t for the fact that they all wore black, they could have been attending a wedding. Diamonds and jade hung from their ears, throats, and fingers, and he could smell their makeup and perfume through the haze of the incense.
As they passed his row, he stood and straightened the hand-me-down suit coat from Quan. He had a lot of growing to do if he was ever going to fill this thing out. And pull-ups. Thousands of pull-ups. He’d start those tonight.
When he looked up, he discovered the ladies had all paused next to him. Dì Mai reached a hand toward his cheek but stopped before touching him.
She searched his face with solemn eyes. “I thought you two were close. Don’t you care that he’s gone?”
His heart jumped and started beating so fast it hurt. When he tried to speak, nothing came out. His throat was swollen shut.
“Of course they were close,” his mom chided her sister before tugging on her arm. “Come, Mai, let’s go. They’re waiting for us.”
With his feet frozen to the floor, he watched as they disappeared through the doorway. Logically, he knew he was standing in place, but he felt like he was falling. Down, down, down.
I thought you two were close.
Ever since his elementary school teacher insisted his parents take him to a psychologist, he’d known he was different. The majority of his family, however, had discounted the resulting diagnosis, saying he was merely “a little strange.” There was no such thing as autism or Asperger’s syndrome in the countryside of Vietnam. Besides, he didn’t get into trouble and did well in school. What did it matter?
I thought you two were close.
The words wouldn’t stop echoing in his head, bringing him to an unwelcome self-realization: He was different, yes, but in a bad way.
I thought you two were close.
Andy hadn’t just been his best friend. He’d been his only friend. Andy was as close as close got for Khai. If he couldn’t grieve for Andy, that meant he couldn’t grieve at all. And if he couldn’t grieve, the flip side also had to be true.
He couldn’t love.
Andy had been right. Khai’s heart really was made of metaphorical stone.
The knowledge spread over him like petroleum in an oil spill. He didn’t like it, but there was nothing to do but accept it. This wasn’t something you could change. He was what he was.
I thought you two were close.
He was . . . bad.
He unfisted his hands, worked the fingers. His legs moved when he commanded them. His lungs drew breath. He saw, he heard, he experienced. And it struck him as being incredibly unfair. This was not what he would have chosen. If he could have chosen who went in that casket.
The chanting started again, signaling the funeral was nearing its end. Time to join the others as they said their final good-byes. No one seemed to understand it wasn’t good-bye unless Andy said it back. For his part, Khai would say nothing.
Two months ago
T.P. Hồ Chí Minh, Việt Nam
Scrubbing toilets wasn’t usually this interesting. Mỹ had done it so many times she had a streamlined routine by now. Spray with poison everywhere. Pour poison inside. Scrub, scrub, scrub, scrub, scrub. Wipe, wipe, wipe. Flush. Done in less than two minutes. If they had a toilet-cleaning contest, Mỹ would be a top contender. Not today, though. The noises in the next stall kept distracting her.
She was pretty sure the girl in there was crying. Either that or exercising. There was lots of heavy breathing going on. What kind of workout could you do in a bathroom stall? Knee-ups maybe.
A strangled sound issued, followed by a high-pitched whimper, and Mỹ let go of her toilet brush. That was definitely crying. Leaning her temple against the side of the stall, she cleared her throat and asked, “Miss, is something wrong?”
“No, nothing’s wrong,” the girl said, but her cries got louder before they stopped abruptly, replaced by more muffled heavy breathing.
“I work in this hotel.” As a janitor/maid. “If someone treated you badly, I can help.” She’d try to, anyway. Nothing rankled her like a bully. She couldn’t afford to lose this job, though.
“No, I’m fine.” The door latch rattled, and shoes clacked against the marble floor.
Mỹ stuck her head out of her stall in time to see a pretty girl saunter toward the sinks. She wore the highest, scariest heels Mỹ had ever seen and a red skintight dress that ended right beneath her butt. If you believed anything Mỹ’s grandma said, that girl would get pregnant the second she stepped foot on the street. She was probably pregnant already—from the potency of a man’s child-giving stare.
For her part, Mỹ had gotten pregnant by messing around with a playboy from school, no skimpy dress and scary heels needed. She’d resisted him at first. Her mom and grandma had been clear that studies came first, but he’d pursued her until she’d caved, thinking it was love. Instead of marrying her when she’d told him about the baby, however, he’d grudgingly offered to keep her as his secret mistress. She wasn’t the kind of girl he could introduce to his upper-class family, and surprise, he was engaged and planned to go through with the wedding. Obviously, she’d turned him down, which had been both a relief and a shock for him, that son of a dog. Her family, on the other hand, had been heartbroken with disappointment—they’d pinned so many hopes on her. But as she’d known they would, they’d supported her and her baby.
The girl in the red dress washed her hands and dabbed at her mascara-streaked cheeks before tossing her hand towel on the counter and leaving the bathroom. Mỹ’s yellow rubber gloves squeaked as she fisted her hands. The towel basket was right there. Grumbling to herself, she stalked to the sinks, wiped off the counter with the girl’s hand towel, and launched it into the towel basket. A quick inspection of the sink, counter, mirror, and neatly rolled stack of towels confirmed everything was acceptable, and she started back toward the last toilet.
The bathroom door swung open, and another girl rushed inside. With her waist-length black hair, skinny body, long legs, and danger heels, she looked a lot like the previous girl. Only her dress was white. Was the hotel having some kind of pageant? And why was this girl crying, too?
“Miss, are you okay?” Mỹ asked as she took a tentative step toward her.
The girl splashed water on her face. “I’m fine.” She braced her wet hands on the granite countertop, making more mess for Mỹ to clean up, and stared at her reflection in the mirror as she took deep breaths. “I thought she was going to pick me. I was so sure. Why ask that question if she doesn’t want that answer? She’s a sneaky woman.”
Mỹ tore her gaze away from the fresh water drops on the counter and focused on the girl’s face. “What woman? Pick you for what?”
The girl raked a certain look over Mỹ’s hotel uniform and rolled her eyes. “You wouldn’t understand.”
Mỹ’s back stiffened, and her skin flushed with embarrassed heat. She’d gotten that look and tone of voice before. She knew what they meant. Before she could come up with a suitable response, the girl was gone. And, forget the girl’s grandpa and all her other ancestors, too, another crumpled towel lay on the counter.
Mỹ stomped to the sink, wiped up the girl’s mess, and threw the towel into the basket. Well, she meant to. Her aim was off, and it landed on the floor. Huffing in frustration, she went to pick it up.
Just as her gloved fingers closed around the towel, the door swung open yet again. She looked heavenward. If it was another crying spoiled girl, she was leaving for a bathroom on the other side of the hotel.
But it wasn’t. A tired-looking older woman padded to the sitting room on the far end of the bathroom and sat on one of the velvet-upholstered love seats. Mỹ knew at first glance the lady was a Việt kiều. It was a combination of things that gave it away: her genuine granddaddy-sized Louis Vuitton handbag, her expensive clothes, and her feet. Manicured and perfectly uncalloused, those sandaled feet had to belong to an overseas Vietnamese. Those people tipped really well, for everything. Money practically poured out of them. Maybe today was Mỹ’s lucky day.
She tossed the hand towel in the basket and approached the woman. “Miss, can I get you anything?”
The lady waved at her dismissively.
“Just let me know, miss. Enjoy your time in here. It’s a very nice bathroom.” She winced, wishing she could retract the last words, and turned back toward her toilets. Why they had a sitting room in here was beyond her. Sure, it was a nice room, but why relax where you could hear people doing bathroom stuff?
She finished her work, set her bucket of cleaning supplies on the floor by the sinks, and performed one last inspection of the bathroom. One of the hand towels had partially unrolled, so she shook it out, rerolled it, and set it on the stack with the others. Then she repositioned the tissue box. There. Everything was presentable.
She bent to pick up her bucket, but before her fingers could close around the handle, the lady said, “Why did you fix the box of Klee-néx like that?”
Mỹ straightened, looked at the tissue box, and then tilted her head at the lady. “Because that’s how the hotel likes it, miss.”
A thinking expression crossed the lady’s face, and after a second, she beckoned Mỹ toward her and patted the space next to her on the sofa. “Come talk to me for a minute. Call me Cô Nga.”
Mỹ smiled in puzzlement but did as she was bid, sitting down next to the lady and keeping her back straight, her hands folded, and her knees pressed together like the virginest virgin. Her grandma would have been proud.
Sharp eyes in a pale powdered face assessed her much like Mỹ had just done to the bathroom counter, and Mỹ pressed her feet together awkwardly and beamed her best smile at the lady.
After reading her name tag, the lady said, “So your name is Trần Ngọc Mỹ.”
“You clean the bathrooms here? What else do you do?”
Mỹ’s smile threatened to fade, and she kept it up with effort. “I also clean the guests’ rooms, so that’s more bathrooms, changing sheets, making beds, vacuuming. Those kinds of things.” It wasn’t what she’d dreamed of doing when she was younger, but it paid, and she made sure she did good work.
“Ah, that is—You have mixed blood.” Leaning forward, the lady clasped Mỹ’s chin and angled her face upward. “Your eyes are green.”
Mỹ held her breath and tried to figure out the lady’s opinion on this. Sometimes it was a good thing. Most of the time it wasn’t. It was much better to be mixed race when you had money.
The lady frowned. “But how? There haven’t been American soldiers here since the war.”
Mỹ shrugged. “My mom says he was a businessman. I’ve never met him.” As the story went, her mom had been his housekeeper—and something else on the side—and their affair had ended when his work project finished and he left the country. It wasn’t until afterward that her mom discovered she was pregnant, and by then it was too late. She hadn’t known how to find him. She’d had no choice but to move back home to live with her family. Mỹ had always thought she’d do better than her mom, but she’d managed to follow in her footsteps almost exactly.
The lady nodded and squeezed her arm once. “Did you just move to the city? You don’t seem like you’re from around here.”
Mỹ averted her eyes, and her smile fell. She’d grown up with very little money, but it wasn’t until she’d come to the big city that she’d learned just how poor she really was. “We moved a couple months ago because I got the job here. Is it that easy to tell?”
The lady patted Mỹ’s cheek in an oddly affectionate manner. “You’re still naïve like a country girl. Where are you from?”
“A village close to Mỹ Tho, by the water.”
A wide grin stretched over the lady’s face. “I knew I liked you. Places make people. I grew up there. I named my restaurant Mỹ Tho Noodles. It’s a very good restaurant in California. They talk about it on TV and in magazines. I guess you wouldn’t have heard about it here, though.” She sighed to herself before her eyes sharpened and she asked, “How old are you?”
“You look younger than that,” Cô Nga said with a laugh. “But that’s a good age.”
A good age for what? But Mỹ didn’t ask. Tip or no tip, she was ready for this conversation to end. Maybe a real city girl would have left already. Toilets didn’t scrub themselves.
“Have you ever thought of coming to America?” Cô Nga asked.
Mỹ shook her head, but that was a lie. As a child, she’d fantasized about living in a place where she didn’t stick out and maybe meeting her green-eyed dad. But there was more than an ocean separating Việt Nam and America, and the older she’d grown, the larger the distance had become.
“Are you married?” the lady asked. “Do you have a boyfriend?”
“No, no husband, no boyfriend.” She smoothed her hands over her thighs and gripped her knees. What did this woman want? She’d heard the horror stories about strangers. Was this sweet-looking woman trying to trick her and sell her into prostitution in Cambodia?
“Don’t look so worried. I have good intentions. Here, let me show you something.” The lady dug through her giant Louis Vuitton purse until she found a manila file. Then she pulled out a photograph and handed it to Mỹ. “This is my Diệp Khải, my youngest son. He’s handsome, ha?”
Mỹ didn’t want to look—she honestly didn’t care about this unknown man who lived in the paradise of California—but she decided to humor the woman. She’d look at the picture and make all the appropriate noises. She’d tell Cô Nga her son looked like a movie star, and then she’d find some excuse to leave.
When she glanced at the photograph, however, her body went still, just like the sky immediately before a rainstorm.
He did look like a movie star, a man-beautiful one, with sexy wind-tossed hair and strong, clean features. Most captivating of all, however, was the quiet intensity that emanated from him. A shadow of a smile touched his lips as he focused on something to the side, and she found herself leaning toward the photo. If he were an actor, all the aloof dangerous hero roles would be his, like a bodyguard or a kung fu master. He made you wonder: What was he thinking about so intently? What was his story? Why didn’t he smile for real?
“Ah, so Mỹ approves. I told you he was handsome,” Cô Nga said with a knowing smile.
Mỹ blinked like she was coming out of a trance and handed the picture back to the lady. “Yes, he is.” He’d make a lucky girl even luckier someday, and they’d live a long, lucky life together. She hoped they experienced food poisoning at least once. Nothing life-threatening, of course. Just inconvenient—make that very inconvenient. And mildly painful. Embarrassing, too.
“He’s also smart and talented. He went to graduate school.”
Mỹ worked up a smile. “That’s impressive. I would be very proud if I had a son like him.” Her mom, on the other hand, had a toilet cleaner for a daughter. She pushed her bitterness away and reminded herself to keep her head down and go about her own business. Jealousy wouldn’t get her anything but misery. But she wished him extra incidences of food poisoning, anyway. There had to be some fairness in the world.
“I am very proud of him,” Cô Nga said. “He’s why I’m here, actually. To find him a wife.”
“Oh.” Mỹ frowned. “I didn’t know Americans did that.” It seemed horribly old-fashioned to her.
“They don’t do it, and Khải would be angry if he knew. But I have to do something. His older brother is too good with women—I don’t need to worry about him—but Khải is twenty-six and still hasn’t had a girlfriend. When I set up dates for him, he doesn’t go. When girls call him, he hangs up. This coming summer, there are three weddings in our family, three, but is one his? No. Since he doesn’t know how to find himself a wife, I decided to do it for him. I’ve been interviewing candidates all day. None of them fit my expectations.”
Her jaw fell. “All the crying girls . . .”
Cô Nga waved her comment away. “They’re crying because they’re ashamed of themselves. They’ll recover. I had to know if they were serious about marrying my son. None of them were.”
“They seemed very serious.” They hadn’t been fake crying in the bathroom—that was for sure.
“How about you?” Cô Nga fixed that assessing stare on her again.
“What about me?”
“Are you interested in marrying my Khải?”
Mỹ looked behind herself before pointing at her own chest. “Me?”
Cô Nga nodded. “Yes, you. You’ve caught my attention.”
Her eyes widened. How?
As if she could read Mỹ’s mind, Cô Nga said, “You’re a good, hardworking girl and pretty in an unusual way. I think I could trust you with my Khải.”
All Mỹ could do was stare. Had the fumes from the cleaning chemicals finally damaged her brain? “You want me to marry your son? But we’ve never met. You might like me . . .” She shook her head, still unable to wrap her mind around that. She cleaned toilets for a living. “But your son probably won’t. He sounds picky, and I’m not—”
“Oh, no, no,” Cô Nga interrupted. “He’s not picky. He’s shy. And stubborn. He thinks he doesn’t want a family. He needs a girl who is more stubborn. You’d have to make him change his mind.”
“How would I—”
“Ơi, you know. You dress up, take care of him, cook the things he likes, do the things he likes . . .”
Mỹ couldn’t help grimacing, and Cô Nga surprised her by laughing.
“This is why I like you. You can’t help but be yourself. What do you think? I could give you a summer in America to see if you two fit. If you don’t, no problem, you go home. At the very least, you’ll go to all our family weddings and have some food and fun. How’s that?”
“I—I—I . . .” She didn’t know what to say. It was too much to take in.
“One more thing.” Cô Nga’s gaze turned measuring, and there was a heavy pause before she said, “He doesn’t want children. But I am determined to have grandchildren. If you manage to get pregnant, I know he’ll do the right thing and marry you, regardless of how you get along. I’ll even give you money. Twenty thousand American dollars. Will you do this for me?”
The breath seeped from Mỹ’s lungs, and her skin went cold. Cô Nga wanted her to steal a baby from her son and force him into marriage. Disappointment and futility crushed her. For a moment, she’d thought this lady saw something special in her, but Cô Nga had judged her based on things she couldn’t control, just like the girls in the skimpy dresses had.
“The other girls all said no, didn’t they? You thought I’d say yes because . . .” She indicated her uniform with an open palm.
Cô Nga said nothing, her gaze steady.
Mỹ pushed away from the sofa, went to gather up her bucket of cleaning supplies, opened the door, and paused in the doorway. With her eyes trained straight ahead, she said, “My answer is no.”
She didn’t have money, connections, or skills, but she could still be as hardheaded and foolish as she wanted. She hoped her refusal stung. Without a backward glance, she left.
That evening, after the hour-long walk home—the same one she did twice a day every day—Mỹ tiptoed into their one-room house and collapsed onto the section of floor mat where she slept at night. She needed to get ready for bed, but first, she wanted to do nothing for a few moments. Just nothing. Nothing was such a luxury.
Her pocket buzzed, ruining her nothing. With a frustrated sigh, she dug her phone out of her pocket.
Unfamiliar phone number.
She debated not answering it, but something had her hitting the talk button and pressing the phone to her ear. “Hello?”
“Mỹ, is this you?”
Mỹ puzzled over the voice. It was slightly familiar, but she couldn’t place it. “Yes. Who’s this?”
“It’s me, Cô Nga. No, don’t hang up,” the lady added quickly. “I got your number from the hotel supervisor. I wanted to talk to you.”
Her fingers tightened on the phone, and she sat upright. “I don’t have anything left to say.”
“You won’t change your mind?”
She resisted the urge to throw her phone at the wall. “No.”
“Good,” Cô Nga said.
Frowning, Mỹ lowered her phone and stared at it. What did she mean good?
She returned the phone to her ear in time to hear Cô Nga say, “It was a test. I don’t want you to trick my son into having a baby, but I needed to know what kind of person you are.”
“So that means . . .?”
“That means you’re the one I want, Mỹ. Come to America to see my son. I’ll give you the entire summer to win him and go to his cousins’ weddings. You’ll need the time. It’ll be work to figure him out, but it’ll be worth it. He’s good stuff. If anyone can do it, I think it’s you. If you want to. Do you?”
Her head began spinning. “I don’t know. I need to think.”
“Then think and call me back. But don’t take too long. I need to arrange your visa and plane ticket,” Cô Nga said. “I’ll be waiting to hear from you.” With that, the call disconnected.
A lamp on the other side of the room clicked on, illuminating the tight, cluttered space with soft, golden light. Clothes and kitchen paraphernalia hung from the walls, covering every square centimeter of crumbling brick not taken up by the old electric stove, tiny refrigerator, and miniature TV they used to watch kung fu sagas and bootleg American films. The center floor space was occupied by the sleeping bodies of her daughter, Ngọc Anh, and her grandma. Her mom lay between Grandma and the stove, her hand on the lamp’s switch. A fan blew humid air at them on the highest setting.
“Who was that?” her mom whispered.
“A Việt kiều,” Mỹ said, barely believing her own words. “She wants me to come to America and marry her son.”
Her mom propped herself up on an elbow, and her hair fell in a silken curtain over her shoulder. Bedtime was the only time she let her hair loose, and it made her look ten years younger. “Is he older than your grandpa? Does he look like a skunk? What’s wrong with him?”
At that moment, Mỹ’s phone buzzed with a message from Cô Nga.
To help you think.
Another buzz, and the photograph of Khải covered the screen—the same one from before. She handed her phone to her mom wordlessly.
“This is him?” her mom asked with wide eyes.
“His name is Diệp Khải.”
Her mom stared at the picture for the longest time, quiet save for the soft sighing of her breathing. Finally, she handed the phone back. “You have no choice. You have to do it.”
“But he doesn’t want to get married. I’m supposed to chase him and change his mind. I don’t know how to—”
“Just do it. Do whatever you have to. It’s America, Mỹ. You have to do it for this one.” Her mom reached over Grandma’s thin sleeping form and pulled Ngọc Anh’s thin blanket up to her throat. “If I had the opportunity, I would have done the same for you. For her future. She doesn’t fit in here. And she needs a dad.”
Mỹ clenched her teeth as childhood memories tried to spill from the corner of her mind where she trapped them. She could still hear the children singing Mixed girl with the twelve buttholes at her as she walked home from school. Her childhood had been difficult, but it had prepared her for life. She was stronger now, tougher. “I didn’t have a dad.”
Her mom’s eyes hardened. “And look where that’s gotten you.”
Mỹ looked down at her girl. “It also got me her.” She regretted being with her daughter’s heartless father, but she’d never regretted her baby. Not even for a second.
She brushed the damp baby hairs away from her girl’s temple, and that enormous love expanded in her heart. Gazing at her daughter’s face was like looking in a mirror that reflected a time twenty years past. Her girl looked exactly like Mỹ used to. They had the same eyebrows, cheekbones, nose, and skin tone. Even the shape of their lips was the same. But Ngọc Anh was far, far sweeter than Mỹ had ever been. She would do anything for this little one.
Except give her up.
Once Ngọc Anh’s father had married, his wife had discovered she couldn’t have babies, and they’d offered to raise Ngọc Anh as their own. Again, Mỹ had turned down an offer everyone expected her to accept. They’d called her selfish. His family could give Ngọc Anh all the things she needed.
But what about love? Love mattered, and no one could love her baby like Mỹ could. No one. She felt it in her heart.
Still, from time to time, she worried she’d done the wrong thing.
“If you don’t like him,” her mom said, “you can divorce him after you get your green card and marry someone else.”
“I can’t marry him just for a green card.” He was a person, not a stack of paper, and if he decided to marry her, it would be because she’d succeeded in seducing him, because he cared about her. She couldn’t use someone that way. That would make her just as bad as Ngọc Anh’s dad.
Her mom nodded like she could hear the thoughts in Mỹ’s head. “What happens if you go and you can’t change his mind?”
“I come back at the end of the summer.”
A disgusted sound came from the back of her mom’s throat. “I can’t believe you need to think about this. You have nothing to lose.”
As Mỹ looked at the black screen on her phone, a thought occurred to her. “Cô Nga said he doesn’t want a family. I have Ngọc Anh.”
Her mom rolled her eyes. “What young man wants a family? If he loves you, he’ll love Ngọc Anh.”
“It doesn’t work that way, and you know it. If a man knows you have a baby, most of the time he’s not interested.” And if he was interested, all he wanted was sex.
“Then don’t tell him right away. Give him time to fall for you, and tell him later,” her mom said.
Mỹ shook her head. “That feels wrong.”
“If he tells you he loves you but backs out of marriage because you have a daughter, you don’t want him anyway. But this woman knows her son, and she chose you. You have to try. At the very least, you get a whole summer in America. Do you know how lucky you are? Don’t you want to see America? Where in America is it?”
“She said California, but I don’t think I can stand being away that long.” Mỹ brushed her fingers across her daughter’s baby-soft cheek. She’d never been away from home longer than a day. What if Ngọc Anh thought she’d abandoned her?
Her mom’s forehead creased with thought, and she got up to dig through a pile of boxes kept in the corner. They were her mom’s personal things, and no one was allowed to open them. Growing up, Mỹ used to snoop through them when no one was looking, especially the bottom one. When her mom opened that box specifically and rustled through its contents, Mỹ’s heart started sprinting.
“That’s where your dad is from. Here, look.” Her mom handed her a yellowed photo of a man with his arm thrown around her shoulders. Mỹ had spent countless hours peering at this photo, holding it close, looking at it upside down, squinting, anything to confirm the man’s eyes were green and he was, in fact, her father, but nothing worked. The picture had been taken from too far away. His eyes could be any color. They appeared brown, if she was being honest with herself.
The lettering on his shirt, however, was easy to read. It clearly said Cal Berkeley.
“Is that what ‘Cal’ stands for?” she asked. “California?”
Her mom nodded. “I looked it up. It’s a famous university. Maybe when you’re there, you can go see it. Maybe . . . you can try to find him.”
Mỹ’s heart jumped so hard her fingers tingled. “Are you finally going to tell me his name?” she asked, her voice whisper thin. All she knew was “Phil.” That was the name her grandma whispered with hate when she and Mỹ were alone. That Phil. Mister Phil. Your mother’s Phil.
A bitter smile touched her mom’s lips. “He said his full name was ugly. All anyone ever called him was Phil. I think his surname started with an L.”
Mỹ’s hopes shattered before they’d fully formed. “It’s impossible, then.”
Her mom’s expression went determined. “You don’t know until you try. Maybe if they use the expensive computers, they can make a list for you. If you work hard, there’s a chance.”
Mỹ gazed at the picture of her dad, feeling the yearning in her chest grow bigger with every second. Did he live in California? How would he react if he opened his door . . . and saw her? Would he accuse her of coming to ask for money?
Or would he be happy to find a daughter he’d never known he had?
She opened up the picture of Khải on her phone and held the two photos side by side on her lap. What had Cô Nga seen in her that she thought Mỹ was a good match for her son? Would her son see it too? And would he accept her daughter? Would her own father accept his daughter?
Either way, her mom was right. She wouldn’t know until she tried. On both accounts.
Mỹ typed out a text message to Cô Nga and hit send.
Yes, I want to try.
“I’m going to do it,” she told her mom. She tried to sound confident, but she was quaking inside. What had she just agreed to?
“I knew you would, and I’m glad. We’ll take good care of Ngọc Anh while you’re gone. Now, go to sleep. You still have to work tomorrow.” The light clicked off. But after the room went dark, her mom said, “You should know with just one summer, you don’t have time to do things the traditional way. You have to play to win, even if you’re not sure you want him. As long as he’s not evil, love can grow. And remember, good girls don’t get the man. You need to be bad, Mỹ.”
Mỹ swallowed. She had a good idea what “bad” meant, and she was surprised her mom dared to suggest it with her grandma in the room.
Reading Group Guide
THE BRIDE TEST by Helen Hoang
Questions for Discussion
1. Khải grew up in America, while Mỹ was born and raised in a small village in Vietnam. What cultural differences can you see and how do you think this affects who they are now?
2. In the beginning of the book, Khải’s mother is in Vietnam to search for a wife for Khải. Do you think it’s wrong of his mother to meddle and interfere in his personal life, or is this justified as an act of love?
3. Prior to reading this book, how would you have imagined an autistic man? How does Khải compare to this vision?
4. Throughout the book, Khải is adamant about not having feel-ings, thus creating a chasm between him and everyone else. When do you see a breakthrough in this way of thinking? How does Mỹ help with this?
5. Khải memorizes a set of rules that his sister made him that lists what he should do when he’s with a girl (page 37). Do you agree with this list?
6. Though Mỹ originally goes to America with the purpose of se-ducing Khải, a lot of her time is spent going to night school and working at Cô Nga’s restaurant. This reflects the hard work that immigrants go through to build a life in the U.S. Can you or anyone you know relate to this?
7. Mỹ lies to Khải about her occupation and tells him that she’s an accountant. She does this because she’s embarrassed by her sta-tion in life but also to feel some sort of connection to him. Should she have just told him the truth from the beginning or do you think her lie helps bring them together at least a little?
8. As adamant as Khải is about not loving Mỹ, he does things for her that show how much he does care about her, such as carry-ing her and helping to find her father. What other ways does he show he loves her?
9. At the end of the book, Khải tells Mỹ he loves her in Vietnam-ese. What is the significance of this?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.5★s The Bride Test is the second novel in the Kiss Quotient series by American author, Helen Hoang. It may be the twenty-first century, but Khai Diep’s mother has come to Vietnam to find him a wife. His older brother Quan will have no trouble in the romance department, but Co Nga despairs of ever having grandchildren if it is left up to Khai. Singularly unimpressed by the applicants she has interviewed, Co Nga is taking a moment’s respite in the hotel bathroom when she encounters Tran Ngoc My. Just a short conversation with My has her convinced this young woman, a hotel cleaner, could be the right one. Co Nga offers her a summer in California, no strings: enjoy America, fun and food at three family weddings, and trying to convince Khai he wants to marry. My wonders if she could find her father, an American businessman, while she’s there… There’s no way Khai wants a house guest upsetting his routines, but refusing his mom when she fixes on an idea is impossible. But getting married to this (admittedly hot!) woman? Nor going to happen! Khai is on the autism spectrum and he knows that he isn’t capable of love. It would be unfair to any woman to agree to marry, because he could never love them back and he hates the idea of hurting someone like that. My, now calling herself Esme, does her best to make herself attractive and useful to Khai, but feels guilty that she has misled him on some things and not revealed a particularly important aspect of her life: Jade, her young daughter living with family in Vietnam. For Jade’s future, it’s vital that Esme succeeds. From the chemistry between the protagonists, it’s quickly clear to the reader that these two are meant to be together, despite the many little misunderstandings that initially plague their relationship. How then, does she come to be walking up the aisle to his brother Quan? There’s lots of humour and even a bit of heartache in this romcom. The flat aspect of the autistic is belaboured, some of the minor characters are quite stereotypical and, as with The Kiss Quotient, expletives are liberally used, especially in Khai’s narrative, and the sexual descriptions are fairly explicit. An enjoyable sexy romantic comedy.
The feel of this book is different than Kiss Quotient—more melancholy, maybe—but lovely and every bit as engaging. I don’t know if I’ll read it again and again like the first, but I did like it very much.
You must read this book. The characters could be your neighbors they feel so real. I enjoyed the story. If you are hedging on purchasing this book, do it!
4.5 STARS! The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang was by far my favorite book of 2018, so naturally when I heard Helen was writing Khai's book I was filled with excitement to once again visit this dynamic world Hoang creates. With that being said, The Bride Test was absolutely perfect! Khai is autistic and doesn't feel nor recogonize emotions. Being from a strict Vietnamese family doesn't help either. It's expected of him to marry and carry on the family name, so you can imagine his irritation and frustration when his mother sets out to set him up. Esme encounters Khai's mother, Cô Nga in the women's bathroom who convinces her to come to the U.S. from Vietnam to meet/marry her son. Thinking of her family struggles, this is an offer Esme cannot refuse as she has hopes of providing a better life for herself and for her family. When Khai and Esme meet it does not go as planned. Not only is their relationship unconventional but Khai feels no connection to Esme and acts rather rudely towards her. Afterall, she is a stranger and in Khai's mind that simple fact is amplified. Then there's Esme, she lives with anxiety of being in a new place and believes that she is the cause of his behavior. It's later on that Esme understands exactly why Khai acts that way. Though their relationship wasn't perfect, with time the relationship between Khai and Esme slowly blooms; and that's the beauty of it all. These two unusual characters complimented one another very well, learning from each other. A slow paced and swoony romance, The Bride Test will have you wanting to read everything Helen Hoang writes!
Why I waited so long to read this book is beyond me because I absolutely couldn't put it down I loved it so much. The chemistry between the two main characters slowly grew and it was awesome. Esme is trying to make ends-meet for her and her family as a hotel maid. But when she has an encounter with a woman in the bathroom of the hotel where she works, she ends up going from living in a one room home where she sleeps on the floor along with her daughter, mother and grandmother, to suddenly living with a man who wants nothing more than for her to leave his house and get out of his space. But for her and her daughter's sake, she is willing to try to get this man to marry her, while also learning the American ways. She just never expected to fall in love with him. Khai is an autistic man who his mother thinks he needs a woman to complete him. But he wants nothing to do with finding a wife. But when he discovers his mother has decided for him that a woman he has never met is moving in with him, he has no choice but suffer the through the time frame in which she is there. But when he sees the woman, Esme, he knows he is going to have it tough, because he is obviously attracted to her. As they spend more time together putting on the facade that they will probably get married by the end of the summer, they both start to really fall for each other. But when one can express her feelings easily, the other can't. So when Khai's house is only occupied by only him again, he can't dismiss the feeling that his house is too empty without her. But he can't come to terms with falling in love. This book was super good. Finding love in unexpected circumstances and overcoming your inner battles make up this wonderful book. Helen Hoang is becoming a favorite of mine to read. You will laugh plenty in the book and feel all the emotions right along with the characters. I love it when the author writes so good that you actually feel like you are in the story yourself watching it all play out.
I blazed right through this one and had an incredible amount of fun returning to the world of The Kiss Quotient. The Bride Test follows Michael’s cousin Khai and a new character, Esme, a Vietnamese immigrant. Khai is intelligent, logical, intense and autistic. He’s also single. The latter of which his mother plans to remedy by inviting Esme to stay with Khai for the summer. Esme desires a better life for herself, her daughter and their family. She reluctantly sees this opportunity as a stepping stone to said life. She isn’t searching for a husband. But how hard could it be? Go to America and seduce this man. Perhaps they would fall in love. And if she didn’t succeed, she would at least be paid for her time. Both Esme and Khai certainly have their work cut out for them. I really enjoyed this story and found it to be sweet and funny, while also carrying a fantastic message about grief and maneuvering one’s emotions. Esme’s character is truly the bright spot of this story and I admire her hard-working nature and tenacity. She is truly the type of character I could aspire to be more like. The romance in this is slow to blossom, of course. Khai has never had a non-platonic relationship with a woman in any form. Esme’s past relationships have been wrought with bad experiences. Watching these two navigate their relationship from roommates, to friends, to more was delightful. I especially found a part in which Khai criticizes junior high sex education and seeks advice from Michael and Quan to be hilarious and true in so many regards. All of this said, Khai and Esme have big secrets they are keeping from one another (because of course) and must decide how to approach these subjects, or lose one another completely. Khai is in new territory, with Esme constantly in his personal life – whereas before he could ignore phone calls and lock himself inside his house. As they grow closer, Esme finds she doesn’t know how to share the most important part of her life. She fears it’ll shatter her chance of a different life. It’s important to note that The Kiss Quotient and The Bride Test are #ownvoices novels. The author Helen Hoang and the characters Stella and Khai have autism spectrum disorders. Helen has clearly infused both of these stories with her own experiences and struggles. As the parent of a child on the spectrum, I feel the difficulties Stella and Khai have in traversing emotional and social situations deep in my bones. Its something I struggle to help my own child with on a daily basis. I applaud Helen for bringing us these characters and their stories to us readers. Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed The Bride Test and his predecessor, The Kiss Quotient. Definitely keep your eyes peeled for Helen’s next novel, The Heart Principle, due out in Spring 2020!
The Bride Test is the stand alone sequel to Helen Hoang’s wildly acclaimed The Kiss Quotient. Khai Diep is introduced to the reader as unfeeling and incapable of love. Despairing of ever having grandchildren, his mother goes back to Thailand to find Khai a wife. In the bathroom of a large hotel she meets Esme, the house maid of that hotel. Enjoying Esme’s lack of artifice and her practical manner, she issues the invitation to Esme to come to America for the summer, meet Khai and see if they’d be a good match. All expenses paid, with a job waiting tables at her restaurant waiting on the other side. Down on her luck Esme takes advantage of this opportunity and takes her first plane trip to the US, where she proceeds to charm Khai with her lack of feminine wiles. I had a few issues with the Kiss Quotient. I had such a hard time overcoming the fact that FINALLY a book was written about an autistic woman falling in love, yet that love was a hooker. So many people overlooked his profession but for some reason (I don’t know, sanity?) that was a line I just couldn’t cross. Thankfully, The Bride Test had none of those issues. Khai, too was autistic. However, his self proclaimed issues were his emotions, not his lack of sexual prowess as was Stella’s in The Kiss Quotient. I loved learning about Khai’s difficulty’s trusting himself to let go and feel. I learned a lot about autism reading from his POV. Funny enough, Esme seemed to have plenty of self worth issues herself but hers came from her social standing. Their character growth ran parallel to each others and I relished seeing how this country girl taught Khai how to learn to love. This novel had plenty of humorous moments and titillating scenes that fans of The Kiss Quotient will be happy to hear about. Esme is a fish out of water in the US and she makes plenty of social gaffe’s, however she’s so sweet and charming that you are laughing with her instead of at her. Khai’s confused attachment to her grows and he becomes her biggest champion, albeit in a way that shows he’s absolutely clueless about how to navigate a romantic relationship. They really were the perfect couple. The Bride Test is a unique romance novel in that its main characters are not perfect at the end of the book. You get the feeling that both Khai and Esme have a long journey of self discovery ahead but they will do it hand in hand.
Oh, this was just wonderful! Right up there with book one ( The Kiss Quotient ), placing Helen Hoang on my auto-buy list now, for sure! Esme and Khai were both delightful characters. Like Michael and Stella in the first book, one of their mains struggles is with feeling they are "less than." Esme's problems in this area are worse than Khai's--growing up with mixed heritage and no father in Vietnam wasn't easy, and the fact that she had to drop out of high school always weighs heavily on her. She constantly feels as if she's not good enough for Khai and his family, and fears that if she reveals her true self to them they'll reject her. (No real worries there, though--even her future MIL is all kinds of awesome!) Khai's main struggle is the feeling of otherness that he's always had, especially after his cousin (and only real friend)'s death ten years earlier. It made me more than a little crazy that most of his extended family didn't bother to try to understand him; fortunately his mother, brother, and sister were all kinds of awesome, but still. The one aspect of the book that I struggled a bit with is that it didn't feel like Khai and Esme got to know each other as well as they could have during their summer together. Khai spent so much of the first half hiding from her (and his growing feelings, of course) and then their relationship became more physical than anything else--she had things she was hiding from him and he wasn't one for chit chatting. Clearly they've worked things out by the time we get to the epilogue, but I would have liked to have seen more of the getting to know you stuff on the page. I have to admit I've read literally dozens of books since I read Ms. Hoang's first book, and it wasn't until Michael and Stella's one big scene at the book that I realized how the two books were connected (Michael and Khai are cousins). I'm pretty sure I squealed out loud with joy, and know for certain that I had a giant smile on my face for that entire scene. Then I had to go back and re-read the three way phone conversation between Khai, his brother Quan, and Michael one more time, because OMG. I laughed out loud even more the second time. My point here is--you can absolutely read this book as a standalone with no ill effects. But for pity's sake, do yourself the favor of going back and reading the first book too, because yes, it's that good. Fingers crossed that Ms. Hoang's going to give Quan his own book, because I think I could give their mother a run for her money in the who wants to see Quan get his own HEA contest... ;) The narrator of the audio version was delightful--her accents and the different voices she gave each character made listening a joy. I am bummed that the author's note wasn't included in the audio version; fortunately I also had a digital ARC (I switched back and forth while reading, depending on what I was doing) so I did get to read it. Rating: 4 stars / A- I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book.
In this equally charming and sexy successor to The Kiss Quotient, Hoang again features a lead character with Asperger’s Syndrome whose funny internal thoughts keep readers laughing. As the book opens, we are re-introduced to Khai (the cousin of Michael from the first book) at a wake for his 16-year-old cousin Andy, his best (only) friend who died in a motorcycle. Austism makes it difficult for him to show emotion (including crying) or tolerate touching, so he’s accused of not caring. All his young brain registers is that, if he can’t grieve, then he can’t love either. Ten years later, he’s so firmly convinced of this that his interfering mother finally takes matters into her own hands to ensure that he gets married and gives her grandchildren. She heads to Vietnam and devises a bride test to find a woman worthy of her son who won’t just want him for his money. There she meets My (Esme), a single mother who was abandoned by her daughter’s father when she got pregnant (just as her own American father abandoned her mother), and promptly offers her a chance to spend a summer in American getting to know Khai and hopefully convincing him that she is a woman he’d want to marry. Despite the wacky way they are thrown together, the relationship between Esme and Khai is beautiful and full of humor, and they both blossom with the care and concern they show each other. Although Khai struggles with the disruption Esme brings to his well-ordered life, she is committed to being indispensable to him so that she’ll be able to remain in the U.S. and have her family join her. When Khai helps Esme look for the father she’s never known, their bond strengthens, but he continues to believe he is unloveable despite his actions to the contrary. Will Esme eventually pass the bride’s test and be the woman who gets through to Khai or will she end up back in Vietnam after the summer? Pick up this wonderful book and find out! Readers who have fallen in love with The Kiss Quotient may have a third book to look forward to…perhaps with Khai’s older brother Quan? Here’s hoping! I received a complimentary ARC of this book from Berkley Publishing Group through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed are completely my own.
In the follow-up novel to The Kissing Quotient Hoang once again brought her A game. I am not sure if she is writing from a place of personal experience, dealing with adults with Autism and Asperger’s, but I feel she must be. There is just so much emotion and soul in these characters they feel real. Khai believes he has no feeling that his Autism makes him unable to love. His family knows better, and his mom goes to Vietnam to find him a wife. She finds Esme a hardworking, kind, funny, generous and caring woman who can’t say no to the chance at a better life. Esme knows she has her work cut out for her trying to win Khai over, but she isn’t afraid of hard work. Warning, don’t even attempt to put on makeup while listening to the audiobook. I can remember the last time a book had me so emotional. I was in tears so much. Esme is not understanding what Autism has had no forewarning dealing with Khai, and she struggled. Khai struggles with his feelings, and the books were such an emotional rollercoaster for me. I loved every minute, tears, and all.
HOLY CRAP, this book. I have to start by saying that I'm really angry at all the reviews saying they didn't like The Bride Test because it wasn't The Kiss Quotient. OF COURSE IT'S NOT! If you want to read The Kiss Quotient again, then go reread it. With The Bride Test, Helen Hoang gives us a brand new love story with an autistic hero and a heroine who is just... Gosh, I can't even begin to describe my love and the amount of rooting for Esme I've got going on. Seriously, read the author's note at the end of the book - Esme was originally a side character and a complication for a love triangle in the original plot, but she was SO real and determined and earnest that Helen Hoang had to scrap her original book idea and rewrite it to feature Esme as the heroine. She refused to be treated as unworthy or a second class citizen, and I can't help but stand up and applaud this fictional character for being sweet and ballsy as hell at the same time. Helen Hoang has a knack for writing characters that are so intensely relatable, even though their experiences and backgrounds are immensely different from my own. I'm a neurotypical middle-class white woman, but I felt like I could really relate to and care about this high school dropout teen mom from a very poor village in Vietnam and this autistic finance-whiz guy from a crazy extensive and pushy Vietnamese family. In case you couldn't already tell, I am head over heels for Esme. I spent this entire book cheering so hard for her to succeed, wanting so badly for her to see how wonderful she is and to learn to value herself. I love the amazing personal growth Esme goes through over the course of this book, and it's basically got me ready to sing Eye of the Tiger and run up and down some steps in a vigorous training montage or something. Khai is also an amazing character, and I love how clearly Helen Hoang writes his experience with autism, making it understandable and relatable to people who don't have that experience. And then the chemistry and interactions between Khai and Esme! Oof, so much love. They both do the cutest and most endearing things, and they're both kind of odd, which I love. Khai's mom is also a treasure, and I'd love to meet her and get one of her "carrot-grating" hugs, haha. Khai's brother Quan's book is the next in the series (The Heart Principle) and I am SO EXCITED, because HUBBA HUBBA. The scene where he and Michael are having a sex talk with Khai is just hilarious but also really cute. The Bride Test is billed as being the second book in The Kiss Quotient series, but it absolutely stands on its own. That being said, definitely read both book because they're both amazing!
The Bride Test was another fabulous and fast-reading book by Helen Hoang. This is the second book in her series to The Kiss Quotient. This author will blow you away, and the reader will definitely enjoy her stories. I anxiously await her third book to the series. Love, love, love and highly recommend!
This is a story about a young woman from Vietnam named Esme Tran. She works in a hotel as a janitor/maid. Her simple and meager lodgings at home are shared with her little daughter Jade, as well as her mother and grandmother. Esme's father is American, although she never met him. Her mother found herself pregnant after her American businessman lover went back to the states. The only remnants of his existence are an old picture and the fact that he was once a college student at Berkeley in California. History had a way of repeating itself, the way Esme and her Mom both became young single mothers. One day Esme is very diligently cleaning the hotel bathroom when she notices an upscale dressed older woman resting in the bathroom's adjacent sitting room. The woman strikes up a conversation with Esme that is a pivotal point in the story. This Vietnamese woman now lives in America, is a successful restaurant owner, and wishes to arrange a marriage to her youngest son, Khai. Khai is a very successful accountant, eminently handsome...but is autistic. This final piece of information is withheld from Esme for the time being. She offers Esme an opportunity she cannot refuse- to come to America for a few months to try and win her son over with the ultimate goal being marriage. Esme's mother convinces her to seize the opportunity as it will benefit her whole family if she succeeds. When we first meet Khai he is sitting in a funeral home where his best friend Andy is laid out. It becomes evident that he processes things differently from other people. While everyone else is crying and displaying behavior befitting mourning, Khai is stoic and completely unemotional. He is set apart from everyone else. He knows this. In fact, when he goes to weddings he keeps a paperback in his suit jacket pocket to read, either right at the table while everyone else is socialising, or will simply escape to some other room in the banquet hall to find his own reading solace. He has a rigid routine that he follows for each day. He owns his own home, but it's still sporting a green, deep shag carpet. The only room that was ever updated was the bathroom. He often wakes up to a morning boner, but he is a virgin. He just knows he's an emotional stone inside and wouldn't want to inflict that inability to love on anyone else. Then Esme crashes into his world and stirs up everything. She's very pretty and down to earth with a strong work ethic. No sooner is she thrust upon him then she's cutting down an unsightly tree with a meat cleaver (she's very industrious also), and climbing a ladder to clean the leaves out of his gutters. Khai doesn't know what hit him. He's constantly aroused by her, but trying to resist her charms. Without getting into too many more details, Khai is on a journey to discovering, understanding and embracing his emotional side. Esme is also growing as she learns English and her true potential in life. There were many comical situations that were truly delightful and refreshing. These mostly occurred during the onset of Esme and Khai's relationship. There were also numerous steamy sexual trysts, which were fun to read since Khai was ripe and ready but always resisting and denying his virginal self. My frustration set in a bit towards the end of the book with Khai's continual resistance to coming to terms with his love for Esme. However, the book's conclusion is very touching and satisfying. Thank you to the publisher Berkley for an arc via Edelweiss.
The Kiss Quotient was probably one of my favorite reads of 2018, and I was unbelievably excited for its sequel, The Bride Test! I am always so desperate for Vietnamese rep, and Helen Hoang really delivers it in a way I've never gotten before. The Bride Test is an amazing book, filled with love and understanding and heart. This book really took my breath away; I honestly couldn't put it down! Esme and Khải are great narrators, and I loved following them on their journeys. Esme is struggling to adapt to American life and to make Khải fall in love with her. Khải is trying to adapt to the changes in his life with the introduction of Esme into his life and to not fall in love with her. Esme is truly amazing. Following an immigrant as a narrator was definitely eye-opening, and in Hoang's author's note, she notes that she does not have first-hand experience as an immigrant and goes on to list resources for you to read and to learn more about it. She also writes that the research that went into this novel brought her closer to her mother, a Vietnamese immigrant; I teared up at this point because I share this same experience. This is why we need #ownvoices books! I also liked that Esme has a child (despite never formally being in a relationship with her child's father) but is never ashamed of this. She certainly believes that ever falling for her daughter's father was a mistake, but the love that she has for her daughter is massive and unending. The Bride Test is also #ownvoices for autism representation in Khải. It is definitely interesting reading how he believes he doesn't have feelings, just because he doesn't experience them like most everyone else does. This definitely got me thinking about how we, as a society, portray a "normal" way to feel, when everyone is different and expresses their emotions in different ways, especially love. Khải thinks he's incapable of love because he doesn't feel the passion and intensity that's often portrayed; however, love can be subtle: it can be slow-growing, shown in small, everyday gestures. This book is evidence of that, and I loved reading a different take on a love story. Khải's brother, Quân, is honestly the best! He's such a great brother and overall person, helping both Khải and Esme in their times of need. Can we get a book about him please?? I also loved seeing him and Khải and Michael interact, although I desperately need more of them together. I've touched on this throughout this review, but the Viet representation in this book is truly some of the best I've ever read. The fact that I get to read about Vietnamese people, eating Vietnamese food, mentioning little bits of Vietnamese culture, all while falling in love . . . it honestly still makes me cry. I so rarely get to see Vietnamese characters, much less have them centered in a love story. Hoang is writing more sequels in this series with Michael's sisters as the protagonists, if you didn't know, and I smile every time I remember this. #ownvoices books mean so, so much. The Bride Test is a stunning sequel to its already amazing predecessor. You'll be sure to fall in love with Esme and Khải over and over throughout the book as they fall in love with each other. The Vietnamese rep is some of the best I've ever had the chance to read, and I'm forever grateful for it. The Bride Test is a poignant tale of an immigrant's struggle to adapt, of a man with autism adapting to change, of a slow-growing, but eternally steady love.
So, if you are first coming across my blog, let me tell you that I LOVE The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang, if you aren't new then you are more than aware I'm sure. This author's debut novel took off with amazing writing and an own voice writing that flawlessly incorporates a wonderful fake dating romance with a heroine on the autism spectrum and Vietnamese-american hero. Stella and Michael completely stole my heart. The Bride Test is the next book and is the story of Khai, Michael's cousin and also on the spectrum. My only 'complaint' is that I would have loved to see more of Michael and Stella (though what we did see was adorable!). I absolutely devoured this sequel and I'm already impatient for another book from her! Read this!! Here goes on the formal review. Diversity: In this one both the heroine and the hero are Vietnamese. The hero is on the autism spectrum and the features thereof are directly involved in the story. I absolutely loved it. At no point did it feel as though the hero is expected to change in order to be loved. (Not that I expected any different, but still, it's nice to see) I could guess that the author had personal knowledge on these aspects because they were to naturally incorporated, simply a piece of the whole. Code Status: Definitely a 5 star Emergency Must See!! After a second stellar work, Helen Hoang is definitely an Auto-buy Author for me Allergies/Sensitivities: Trigger warnings There are discussion/memories of family death and coping after Content Warnings The heroine has never known her father and has a child out of wedlock. History: This set in the same world and with the same characters from The Kiss Quotient but it stands alone very well. Caution when reading it that there are spoilers for The Kiss Quotient peppered through, though nothing that I think would affect your enjoyment if you were to read them out of order. Temperature: I'd call this a 3.5 on the heat scale. The hero might be a virgin but there is definitely mentions of arousal from the first meeting and eventually on-page sex. I think my favorite part is that the hero doesn't immediately rock at sex and has to learn. There is actually mentions of How-To Books that are cute and funny. Pain Level: I'd call this a 3 in terms of angst. There are misunderstandings and different goals and conflict enough to keep the book going including some hold-your-breathe moments before that all-important HEA! Heart Rate: This is a contemporary series where there is no world ending disaster or massive conflict. The things at stake are the happiness and future of the characters - which are important - but nothing on a huge scale. I love my paranormals where the universe is on the brink of destruction but it's nice to have it be a more realistic level of conflict too Breathing: This is typical length book though, as with all books I enjoy, I would have loved more :-) Prescription/Rx: If this sounds good, and you haven't read The Kiss Quotient then don't wait buy now!!!
Esme Tran is a poor single mixed-race mother living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, cleaning toilets for a living and sharing a tiny apartment with her mother, grandmother and daughter. One day cleaning a toilet in a fancy hotel she strikes up a conversation with one of the ladies using the bathroom which results in a fairy-tale offer - come to the US and meet the woman's son and hopefully get married. Esme jumps at the chance of a better future for her daughter and the opportunity to possibly find her American father, Phil. Khai Diep has problems expressing emotions the way others do, especially after the tragic death of his best friend a decade ago. A tax genius he nevertheless exasperates his traditional mother who desperately wants him to marry a good Vietnamese woman and have lots of lovely grandchildren. Khai doesn't have the heart to tell his mother than he can't love anyone - he just doesn't have the capability but forced by his domineering mother to play host to Esme for several months, and to squire her to three family weddings, he comes to find this strange woman oddly fascinating. I really liked Helen Hoang's previous novel, The Kiss Quotient but this book just didn't resonate with me in the same way, maybe because Esme and Khai both, in different ways, found it hard to understand their environments and were too similar in that respect? Also I didn't really click with either character, not in the way I empathised with Stella Lane in the last book. Overall, this was an enjoyable read, a bit like Crazy Rich Asians meets The Kiss Quotient but didn't have that extra wow factor of the first book. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Just like everyone else, I wasn't sure how this one would go. It would either be just as good as the first, or it would fall victim to the sophomore slump. Lucky for me, it was just as good as the first one for me. The characters, the romance, everything made it a story that I loved! Khai thinks he's defective because he has no emotions, but in reality its his autism that makes him feel the way he does. And because of that, he has strayed from relationships as long as he could. But then his mom takes it into her own hands and takes it upon herself to choose a bride for him. In comes Esme. She takes the opportunity to come to America to see what other opportunities there are. But trying to make him fall in love with her is harder than she thinks. But falling for him is surprisingly easy.... The main thing I liked about this was the characters. I loved the growing that all of them did and it was so great to see all the things they learned along the way. But the best thing was they did it all by themselves. They both had very different lessons to learn and it made them even stronger, individual characters. And when they finally did get together, it was a wonderful romance and they were both able to bring something to the relationship. Another thing I liked about this was the representation. Although everyone's experience with autism isn't the same, this one is #ownvoices. I liked the way it was shown that Khai had to work to feel comfortable with Esme and he wasn't automatically ready to be with her. And I liked that Hoang chose to focus on a different part of the autism spectrum for Khai's character. I thought that was important to show that not everyone's the same. I found the audio of this was just ok for me. All the characters (except for Quan and Mike randomly) sounded the same and that bothered me. (Esme had a bit of a sharper accent, but that was all the difference.) I wish there was more than one person on the production. Just to make them a bit different. Other than that, Emily Woo Zeller did a really spectacular performance. Even though this one was not about Quan like I wanted it to be, it was still an amazing read. (Also because I get Quan's book next lmao) I have grown to really love Hoang's writing style and now I'm excited for what else she will do next.
I really liked this romance. It is really hard to avoid comparing this book to the author's debut novel, The Kiss Quotient. We do see some familiar characters in this book and I am actually glad that there is a connection. Don't let that fool you though. This is a very different story and I thought it was pretty original. I have a great time with this one. I liked the set up for this story. I thought that it was fun that the whole story begins with Khai's matchmaking mother. It wasn't quite an arranged marriage story since both characters were able to choose but I thought it was a fun premise for a contemporary story. Both Khai and Esme had personalities that made the entire set up of the story believable and I have to say that I can understand why Khai's mom decided to take matters into her own hands. I really liked both of the characters a lot but I would have to say that Khai was my favorite. Khai is autistic and doesn't always see everything the same way that others do. He knows this and has decided that he is broken and unable to feel. He is very high functioning and is very successful in his career. His personal life isn't doing as well before he meets Esme. I think that Khai learned a lot about himself over the course of this story and it was great to see him learn how to be a part of a relationship. Esme really wants to change her life for herself and her daughter. She decides to take Khai's mother up on her offer to spend the summer with Khai in California in a quest to do just that. She is not afraid of hard work and really does try to make Khai happy. Unfortunately, she didn't always understand what Khai needed. I actually liked Esme more as the story progressed and she started focusing more on herself. It was at that point that I felt like I really got to know her and her passions. I think that the romance between these two worked well on a lot of different levels. Neither one of them felt like they belonged so they had something in common. Khai explained what he needed and Esme worked really hard to deliver. They had a lot of chemistry and I really felt that they both seemed to be better when they were together. I thought that Emily Woo Zeller did an amazing job with this story. I thought that she did a great job with both points of view in the story. Character voices were also really well done and I thought that she brought a lot of emotion into the story. I am really glad that I made the decision to listen to this book. I would recommend this book to others. This was a wonderful romance with incredibly strong and unique characters. It really was a joy to watch this happily ever after come together. I can't wait to read more from Helen Hoang! I received a digital review copy of this book from Berkley Publishing Group via Edelweiss and borrowed a copy of the audiobook from my local library.
“The Bride Test is the next book in this series and I’m going to devour it when it’s released. I’m expecting great things from Hoang after reading The Kiss Quotient.” That’s a direct quote from my review of Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient. Did I devour The Bride Test? Yes, I think listening to the audio over two days (for me) could be considered devouring. What it worth it? Very much so! As I heard from some other readers, I feel that this book was even better than The Kiss Quotient. Not that either book is worse than the other, but I think the bar was raised even higher with this one. What this book was able to do for me was to actually keep me thinking “will there really be an HEA when this one’s done?” The Romance genre, by definition, needs an HEA. There’s a framework that most books follow and a reader “knows” mostly when things will start wrapping up and all that. Hoang really had me worrying with this one. Even if the HEA didn’t happen, I feel that I was going to be satisfied with the book as a whole. The characters are some of my favorites in recent memory. Esme is one for not being a push-over, despite being a stranger in a new country and building herself up with little help from others. She made sure she had contingencies no matter what happened. And Khai for growing as a person, understanding himself better, and finding happiness he didn’t even think he needed. This is the first time I’ve read a book where a main character, especially from the 1st person POV, is autistic. Was it drilled into my head that this was the case? Was this a book written just to have an autistic character? No and No. Khai is a well-written character who happens to be the way he is because that’s who he is. Some of the secondary characters (family members, to be more specific) don’t understand him or seem to try realizing he’s not an asshole. But then there’s Quan who is such a caring brother and reminded me that not everyone in the family dismisses Khai’s “differences” as him being stubborn or uncaring. And that leads me to what I would love to see next. Quan’s story. I don’t always “need” a certain character to have a book next, but I think a book for Quan would be a really great one to read, especially if we see more of the couple’s from The Bride Test and The Kiss Quotient in them. I enjoyed the cameos from book one in this book but miss them already.
The Bride Test is absolutely captivating. A romance that slowly unfolds with every page turned. A reminder that communication is key in ANY relationship. I read this book in two days and was left wanting more! Do yourself the favor and dive right into this book.
This book did not make me blush the way The Kiss Quotient did. The build up was intense and went on forever, but the story was so sweet. Khai is on the autism spectrum and his mother goes back to Viet Nam to find a wife for him because she wants him to be happy and have someone who will love him (as much as it seems weird for someone to do this; as a mom, I can appreciate wanting someone to love your child and make them happy). She finds My cleaning bathrooms at a fancy hotel and convinces her to come to America. My doesn't want to leave her daughter and other family, but her mother convinces her to go. She does not tell Khai or his mother about her daughter, in fact she lies about a lot of things to try to win Khai over, so she can make a better life for her daughter in America. It is such a sweet, good book and I loved it. I seldom give romance books five stars, but this book made me think about what life is like in other countries and how lucky we are to live where we do. Plus, a week later I am still thinking about the characters and story.
Writing: 3/4 Plot: 4/5 Characters: 3/5 An erotically charged, utterly non-traditional, romance novel. Diệp Khăi is a successful, Vietnamese-American accountant, with his own business in Sunnyvale. He was also diagnosed with Autism and decided long ago that his “Stone Heart” and “inability to feel emotions” disqualified him from having romantic relationships. His grandchildren-desiring mother (Cô Nga), however, is not willing to give up. Unbeknownst to Khăi, she travels to Việtnam to find him a bride. Esme Tran (Việtnamese name — Trán Ngọc Mỹ) cleans bathrooms in a nice hotel in Hơ Chi Minh city. While resting between disappointing bride interviews in the ladies’ lounge, Nga finds what she is looking for in the attractive, diligent, and polite Esme. Esme has a few secrets of her own — she has a five-year old fatherless daughter, and longs to find her own father — an American named “Phil” who went to UC Berkeley over 20 years ago. Esme accepts Nga’s offer — a job and a visa for the summer and a chance to convince the reluctant Khăi that he wants to marry her. Well-written, with alternating chapters offering alternating character insights in addition to steamy prose. In an interview, the author revealed her own recent Autism diagnosis and the evolution of the Esme character based on her own mother’s immigration to U.S. As a side note, I enjoyed all the Vietnamese names written in the full alphabet and made the (somewhat difficult) effort to include them here. It’s a beautiful looking language which I admit to knowing nothing about. If you’re interested, scan the Wikipedia article here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnamese_alphabet. Thank you to Berkley Publishing Group and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on May 7th, 2019.
The Bride Test was everything I’d hoped it would be and more. It was sweet and it was sexy. It was heart-warning and funny. It was romantic and tragic. And overall, it left me with a smile on my face as I wipe away a few tears. Esme and Khai were both such brilliantly written characters. I loved how Hoang allowed us to go on Khai’s journey with him. However, Esme stole the show for me. I loved how she was strong, resilient, and determined. Hoang mentioned in the author’s note at the end that Esme was inspired by her mother (I HIGHLY recommend reading the author’s note for the full story!). I can’t wait until my physical copy arrives so I can read it again. *Disclaimer: I received this book for free from the publisher. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.