Chastised for being unable to cry at his best-friend and cousin’s funeral, Khải comes to believe that he is unnaturally unfeeling, unable to love. Khải is actually autistic, a diagnosis his immigrant Vietnamese family mostly ignores, instead thinking him as simply a little strange. In Vietnam, My/Esme is just a bit strange too, but in her Khải’s mother sees the perfect bride for her son - humble, hard-working and honest.
While The Bride Test is at points quite funny, at its center it is a deeply emotional story about familial bonds and an immigrant's desperate striving to make a better life for herself and her family. Hoang parallels My’s experiences as a new immigrant trying to figure out the rules of a new culture as an outsider to Khải’s autism and his efforts to navigate the feelings and reactions he doesn’t fully understand. Both My and Khải have to work very hard to decode each other’s feelings and intentions, working to overcome their differing cultural expectations and learn each other boundaries.
The book was marvelously tense, with the countdown to the expiration of My’s visa at the end of the summer never far from either of their minds, especially as they become intimately involved. Sex and their inexperience at intimacy, while at points humorous, is also deeply serious. I loved how Hoang gently built up their rapport, and how it heightened the stakes every time there was a misunderstanding or setback. In the end, they both understand each other better and do more for each other than they ever dared to expect.
While I struggled to get started with The Kiss Quotient, I couldn’t put down The Bride Test, racing breathlessly to the final chapters because I needed to know if Khải and My/Esme would get the HEA they both richly deserve. I wasn’t disappointed. It was perfect.
Content Warnings: Ableism, depression
Ana received a copy of this book from the publisher for review.