Saturday, December 21, 2019

The Bride Test

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang (2019), narrated by Emily Woo Zeller

Khai isn't interested in relationships. He's content with his house and his job and his daily routine. His very specific routine that is set up exactly the way he likes, in his life that is also set up the exact way that he likes. Esme cleans bathrooms in Vietnam, trying to help support her family, including her little girl who she is raising alone. A chance encounter offers her an irresistible deal: she is to travel to America to meet a potential husband and if it works out, she gets to stay in America and make a better life for herself and her family. She just has to convince the guy - who happens to be Khai - to marry her.

Khai's mom has made the arrangements and moves Esme into Khai's home. Esme is nervous because she wants Khai to actually fall for her. She doesn't want to bring her daughter into an unhappy family situation. She also hasn't told Khai (or his mom) that she has a daughter. She also has another motive for coming to California - she doesn't know her own father, but the scant information she has about him includes time spent at the University of California at Berkeley. If she finds her father, she has an alternate path to citizenship and won't need to marry Khai.

Esme and Khai become attracted to each other pretty early on, but of course there are obstacles. The primary one is that Khai is autistic - communication between them isn't great, Esme doesn't know anything about autism, and Khai is convinced that he is not able to feel love and therefore can't give Esme what she deserves. It is a deliciously painful setup.

There are some very sweet and sexy moments. The one that stands out most to me is when Esme offers to cut Khai's hair for him. Because he has sensory issues, he explains in detail how she has to touch him - firmly, no light touches, pull his hair very taut - and they proceed to experiment a bit, Khai showing Esme how to touch and his hair and face. She is nervous of doing something wrong at first, but then becomes more confident as she touches his face and hair. There's nothing explicitly sexual in this scene, but it was very sexy and very memorable.

It's funny too. Khai's brother Quan helps him out a lot with advice over the course of the novel. At one point he is giving Khai much-needed advice about sex, but Khai is skeptical. When Quan tells him about the clitoris, Khai thinks: "It doesn't even sound real. For all he knew it was an urban myth like the chupacabra or Roswell aliens." I almost died laughing.

This book was a delight the whole way through, and I have to give a major shoutout to the narrator, Emily Woo Zeller, who did the male voices so well that at one point I checked to see if there was also a male narrator. I couldn't reconcile the male voices with her female voice. I liked this even better than Helen Hoang's first book, The Kiss Quotient. She's got a third one coming out, but not until 2021. It's going to be a painful wait, especially because it's about Khai's brother Quan, who I love a lot and I'm so glad he's getting his own book!

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