The Bride Test: A Review
Helen Hoang’s sophomore novel The Bride Test is set to release just in time for summer; however, it does not bring the heat of her debut novel The Kiss Quotient—but not for lack of trying. Overall, this novel is an easy read, I finished it in a total of 5 hours; however, despite its quickness I think Hoang misses the mark on a few points.
In this story, we meet the main character Khai in the prologue when he is a child attending his cousin’s funeral, after that we fast forward to somewhat “present day” and meet Khai’s mother who is interviewing women in Vietnam in order to find him a possible bride to bring back to America. The prologue seems rushed and ill placed, solely because chapter one jumps to Esme’s character—who at the time is not even referred to that name yet. Chapter one is also a flashback that begins with “Scrubbing toilets usually interesting,” which left me as a reader quite confused to the jump from Khai’s childhood to a woman scrubbing toilets in Vietnam.
Khai believes he “cannot love”, or that is his conclusion he arrives to at the end of his friend’s funeral when he was young. Because of this, he has not married yet and his mom is growing restless and takes matters to into her own hands and that is why in chapter one we find her interviewing women in Vietnam. Esme, who is going by another name in the beginning of the novel, is who his mom chooses to pay to bring back to the states. She is a housekeeper at a local hotel in Vietnam, which his mom and Esme both do not originally disclose to Khai. This part of the story seems to fit in line with every other type of fun romance novel and movie out today—girl and guy from different background, one lies and they still fall in love. However, I think this is one of Hoang’s first mistakes; not because it is not a tried and true trope but because both Esme and Khai’s singular character development is at best inconsistent and at worst lacking.
At some points Esme is described as a quiet, nervous, and “lonely country girl” and other times being described vividly in regards to her physical features (e.g. breast, butt, and other parts). Although I am aware that humans are not static creatures, it is hard to follow which Eseme we will get from chapter to chapter. The meek Esme who thinks she broke a shower and offers to fix it or the Esme who is aware of her body and determined to manipulate Khai into loving her, or at least having sex with her. And in terms of Khai, who has Autism, is also hard to pin down as far as character development. First he is angry at his mother for setting him up with a woman and having that woman stay in his house but then not much longer after that Khai is rushing to the doctor’s office to find Esme. We also see that Khai, who thinks Esme is weird for enjoying fresh fruit, does not find it strange that Esme wants to wear the wedding dress that belongs to another bride of a wedding she attended.
. Although Hoang semi-explains Khai’s diagnosis of Autism, some of her writing surrounding him falls flat. Through not fully explaining Khai’s house choice, but continuing to mention the house in comparison with other people who have money, leaves a gaping hole into some of Khai’s back story. It is almost that Khai is only propped up by the characters around him instead of existing with memorable attributes and personality traits. This may be intentional; however, because of his diagnosis of Autism and that is why he is comparing himself to Quan. The lack of explanation of Andy’s death, Khai’s cousin/friend until the end of the book, again another hole is in his development of a character.
This novel is really about grief and familial expectations more than it is about romance and I think that is the mistake of Hoang. I do not think this book was terrible however, there are many loveable qualities. Esme’s desire to make Khai happy by doing simple things is extremely cute and it is even hilarious how Esme folds Khai’s socks to purposely annoy him so he is forced to think about her. Yet even through these highs and predictable plot, the lows of this book do not make for a completely interesting reading journey towards the conclusion.
Hoang’s writing surrounding not only Khai’s past was a little lackluster her writing surrounding Esme’s daughter and search for her father leaves too much for the reader to piece together on their which in turn causes a distraction to the main plot. I do believe her writing becomes stronger towards the end. This comes through Esme’s evolution as a character, a woman who moves out and gets her own apartment and begins going to school.
Again, it is not a terrible book but I do think the messages surrounding the characters begins to get muddled. The opening scene—the prologue—is extremely confusing. As a reader you’re left assuming Khai is really young when his cousin dies, but later we find out he had motorcycle so figuring out the timeline was a bit confusing at times. Also, the same can be said for Esme’s age as well. I honestly felt like there were too many holes in the story for this book to be as highly rated as her debut.
I understand that following up a book that was such a great success can be difficult but I really wanted more from Hoang in this book. I do think that Hoang will write more amazing novels and find the perfect balance between nuanced characters and light and airy romance; however, The Bride Test was not it.