Book Review: “The Bride Test” by Helen Hoang

Cover of "The Bride Test" by Helen Hoang.
Cover of “The Bride Test” by Helen Hoang.

Happy November, everyone!

I’m back with another book review, and this time I’m reading and reviewing “The Bride Test” by Helen Hoang! I have heard a lot of good things about this romance book, and it’s also been a while since I last read and reviewed a romance book. I thought it would be a good book to read and review this time. Here is a quick summary so we know what it’s about:

“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.”

Plot Development: 1.5 out of 5 stars

I am no expert on knowing anything about autism, the immigration process, arranged marriage, and mail-order brides. I’m not going to comment too much on here in terms of how it impacts the plot since I cannot say how accurate those parts were. For those curious about that, please either read a review from someone who knows those areas more or maybe ask someone who knows about those parts.

Focusing mainly on the story, I do think the fact that Khai’s mother wouldn’t respect him not wanting to get married in the first place, hence going out of her way to get Esme to try to seduce and marry him, was wrong for many reasons. It wasn’t fair to Khai, who didn’t want to get married or have children in the first place. It also wasn’t really that fair to Esme other than her using the opportunity to get an education on the side and permanent residence via marriage considering how she was manipulated by Khai’s mother to try marrying Khai in the first place. I know that this type of arrangement can happen and has happened in real life. However, it still doesn’t change the fact that the circumstances leading to it in this book were not good.

I also wish that there was more discussion of Khai’s clear grief for his recently-dead best friend in the main story. Clearly, that is something that will affect him emotionally in some way. I thought it would be a more prevalent storyline in this book for Khai’s own development, but it was dropped about halfway through in favor of expanding on Khai and Esme’s romance, as well as them attending other characters’ weddings together and trying to bond with each other. Esme’s own arc about getting an education, though good for her to gain, felt underdeveloped.

The overall plotline was fairly predictable; there was nothing super-surprising about it. Unfortunately, since this is a romance novel and the plot heavily relies on how well-written the romance is, this made the story worse-executed overall to read for a romance. I’ll expand on this more in the romance section of this review.

Character Development: 1.5 out of 5 stars

I can’t say how well-portrayed Khai’s autism was in this book because, as I mentioned earlier in this review, I am no expert in this area. There are other book reviewers and/or readers out there that are more educated in this area and could probably discuss this better in the context of reviewing this book, so I’m not going to comment much here on it because of this.

Autism aside, I have mixed feelings about Khai as a character. On one hand, I understand his discomfort with his mother and other people in his life trying to get him together with Esme. I also understood his discomfort with Esme lying to him and so on. At the same time, I never felt like Khai had the opportunity to really stand for himself. He got pushed around a lot by Esme, his friends, and family members, and it felt like he lacked autonomy.

As for Esme, a huge issue I had with her in this book was her constant lying to Khai and so many other characters. Whenever she spoke about not trying to marry Khai for just the sake of a green card and/or financial stability, I knew right away that she was either doing it to tell herself that or convince any other characters (or the reader) that her lies were justified. Considering that her lying is a huge part of this book’s story, this made me dislike her even more.

I understand that she was in on the plan to seduce and marry Khai for the sake of having a potentially better life financially for her and her daughter. I somewhat sympathized with the fact that she wanted that better life for herself and her child. However, I felt that she should have been upfront and honest to Khai from the beginning about her having a child already in the first place. Sure, she took advantage of her time to get a proper education in accounting and learn English and she eventually did marry Khai in the end. Despite her reasoning, I never once could get myself as a reader to completely sympathize with her at all. It would be different if she was maybe blackmailed by Khai’s mother to not mention the child until the last minute, but that wasn’t the case.

I also hated how Esme would mess with Khai’s personal property without at least asking him first. Sure, she’s used to doing that as part of her job back at home because that’s what she’s supposed to do as a janitor. However, when you’re living with your potential fiance, the least she could do was ask him first (unless it’s in case of emergency and/or fire hazard) before doing so.

The only character I liked reading in this book was Quan. He helped Khai sort through his feelings for Esme. He also was one of the few side characters that helped push Esme and Khai together, to begin with. Quan was even willing to marry Esme when Khai admitted late in the book that he (at the time) didn’t love Esme but wanted her to marry him anyway. It also helped that Quan himself was also was fine with the fact that Esme already had a child beforehand when she finally revealed that to him. I also just sensed from reading this book that Quan and Esme were more understanding of each other overall. Had the story focused on getting Quan and Esme together instead of Khai and Esme, I might also even like Esme more as a character.

Romance Development: 1.5 out of 5 stars

The romance was so poorly written in this book. It was so bad that it might actually be one of the worst romances I’ve read this year. There were so many issues of miscommunication. At least half of them were due to Esme either constantly lying or messing with Khai’s property without asking him first. I already wrote enough about Esme lying in the character development section, so I won’t repeat it here.

It’s also hard to root for the romance when Khai’s first impression of Esme is that he finds her visually attractive like a porn star. Additionally, his point of view describing her constantly has his thoughts mentioning sexual thoughts about her. It’s even worse when he initially tries asking her to marry him by saying (I’m paraphrasing here) “I don’t love you, but I’ll let you marry me briefly for the sake of you getting permanent residence and so we can have a more physical relationship.”

Of course, both Esme and Khai manage to apologize in the end. However, I felt like the resolution of the romance development was rushed and badly executed. They just hurt each other too much with the constant lying and miscommunication.

Overall, I’m rating this book 1.5 out of 5 stars!

I think there are too many issues with miscommunication and lying in this romance novel for me to ever want to pick it up again. However, if this is the type of storyline that you enjoy reading, this might be one you will be interested to read.

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