Published by Berkley on May 7, 2019
Genres: Romance, Fiction, Own Voices
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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.
I’m not really a reader of the romance genre, but The Kiss Quotient and now The Bride Test has redefined the genre for me. Especially since it covers #ownvoices Vietnamese and autism rep.
What I appreciated about The Bride Test, is the rags to riches story of Esme, the poor Vietnamese-American immigrant who travels to the United States. When given the chance to woo Khai, an accountant who is autistic, she takes the gamble of chance for a better life for herself and her daughter.
Esme is such a soft character, although she’s not confident speaking English and doesn’t know American customs, her empathy and sensitive, caring nature comes through. As a new mum, I recognised the guilt she felt being away from her child and could emphasise with how heavily her temporary visit to the USA weighed on her. Not only does she have to learn how to live in the US, being so far away from her family, but she also has to seduce Khai in a matter of months. There’s also her wanting to reconnect with her long lost American father which kind of felt like an unecessary addition to the plot.
“Warm. Content. Safe in his arms. Him safe in hers. She hugged him tighter. He was bigger and stronger, but she would protect him with everything she had.”
Then there’s Khai – handsome, successful, intelligent – who believes he can’t love and can’t feel human emotion. Being on the ASD spectrum, I appreciated how the author explores different types of autism through The Kiss Quotient as well as The Bride Test. The author’s note at the end describes how many of Khai’s thought pattern and mannerisms reflect her own – such as believing he has a stone heart. The thing about Khai, is even though he has these own beliefs about himself, Esme can see through his barriers into the kind and thoughtful person that he is.
Despite everything that they have between them – Esme not knowing what ASD is, Khai dealing with his own insecurities – the couple still manage to overcome their barriers and to explore their feelings of mutual attraction. Their relationship feels like it’s hard won, which offers the reader a lot of pay off at the end. Not to mention the sexual chemistry and saucy sex scenes between the two as Esme lives at Khai’s house and they inevitably act on their feelings.
“Everyone deserved to love and be loved back. Everyone. Even her.”
One thing that I felt was explored well in the novel as well, is how ASD isn’t a thing in Vietnam. Esme doesn’t know what it is, and therefore doesn’t judge Khai based on the stigma associated with it. Instead, there are a lot of misunderstandings as the two learn to communicate with each other. Khai’s confidante is his brother Quan, who offers him frank advice on dealing with Esme. I think Quan will become a fan favourite and I’m really looking forward to his book!
While there are many aspects of The Bride Test which I enjoyed, I felt like much of the drama was manufactured especially towards the end. Emotional manipulation through sex was used to get each party to act in a certain way, which I couldn’t help but feel squeamish about. Then there’s also a deal that Esme and Quan make which kind of forced Khai to deal with his feelings for her, and I felt like it was a bit over the top. However despite these minor qualms, I still enjoyed the sweet, soft developing relationship between Esme and Khai.
Featuring insight into an autistic accountant and a poverty-stricken mother from Vietnam, The Bride Test was a thoroughly enjoyable romance even for those who are new to the genre. It’s heartfelt and filled with emotion, and also explored some more serious topics when it comes to anxiety, moving to a new country and the sacrifices that one has to make in order to do so. Both Esme and Khai go through a learning experience in the book, and there are a lot of obstacles for them to overcome in order to be together. This is an adorable, romantic book with a lot of heart that will leave a lasting impression.
Rating: 4 out of 5