Publication Date: 7 May 2019
Genre: Contemporary Romance
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.
This book was a joy to read! I loved seeing good representation of autism, and an insight into Vietnamese culture. Although the relationship between Khai and Esme is brought together through an arranged ‘test’ marriage, both characters were headstrong in how they operated and navigated the relationship. The pair originally held some impassivity towards the other due to their wariness of the situation, but grew to learn from the different traits that the other possessed. I think that is what made the story so likeable.
The author is both autistic and Vietnamese, so the story and the characters felt very genuine. I adored seeing a character with autism find love in a novel, as novels often only promote characters who are neurotypical. I have not read The Kiss Quotient, but hope to soon. The main female character also has autism, so Hoang is clearly making strides in a part of the book industry that is severely underrepresented.
The story opens up with Esme living in Ho Chi Min City working as a cleaner. She is approached by Khai’s mother, who proposes she move to the United States and win the heart of her lonely, unmarried son. Because of Esme’s circumstances living in poverty, and wanting to be able to provide for her daughter, she takes the offer in the hopes of obtaining a better life. However, Khai is content with his life – as we know from the dual perspective – and is opposed to his mother’s invasive idea.
I really didn’t have any issues with the novel. The romance was slow yet powerful; I could feel the tension on every page. Khai’s attentiveness to Esme and Esme’s adoration for Khai drew me in.
Thank you to Allen & Unwin for the advanced reader copy that I received in exchange for an honest review!