After reading Helen Hoang‘s The Kiss Quotient, I knew I had to read its sequel, The Bride Test, next. Both books are part of a trilogy, with the third and final installment due next year. The trilogy centers on characters with autism navigating romantic and sexual relationships.
While The Kiss Quotient followed an autistic, successful woman named Stella and her male escort Michael, The Bride Test focuses on two new characters: Khai – Michael’s cousin – is an autistic man who’s paired up with Esme, a young mother from Vietnam. Khai’s mother thinks her youngest son needs a wife, but recognizes that he’ll never pursue anyone. So she flies to her native Vietnam to find him a bride. Here we meet Mỹ, a poor biracial woman working as a maid in Ho Chi Minh City. Though hesitant at first, Mỹ agrees to fly to California to spend the summer with Khai and try to get him to marry her.
The beginning feels a bit silly at first, but The Bride Test blossoms into a moving, wonderful story. Mỹ changes her name to Esmerelda (Esme for short), and is set up to live in Khai’s spare bedroom. Esme is eager to win his approval, but Khai is simply not interested in getting into a relationship. He thinks he can’t love, and feels it’s best to avoid relationships entirely rather than break someone’s heart.
Nonetheless, this man with a “heart of stone” does slowly warm up to the irresistible Esme. The two grow close, developing an intimate and physical relationship, one that could lead to love. But as much as he grows to care for her, Khai can’t love Esme. How can they get married if it isn’t love?
Like The Kiss Quotient, The Bride Test weaves larger themes into the fabric of its story. In addition to exploring intimacy between a woman and an autistic man, the novel also finds a feminist hero in Esme. Not wanting to marry simply for a green card, she works to improve her education, earning her GED and aiming for college after that. She strives to set an example to her young daughter, to show that hard work will lead to success. She’s an immigrant who struggles with English at first, but she’s smart, a fast learner, and a hard worker.
The Bride Test delves into some deep and important topics, but it also has healthy doses of comedy. Numerous scenes in the book will make you laugh out loud, especially those involving Khai and his brother Quan. Be ready for plenty of laughter, but also a few tears – both of sorrow and of joy. And while The Kiss Quotient was generous with the sex scenes, The Bride Test focuses more on romance and plot. It’s not nearly so erotic, allowing more room for the story to evolve.
Between the two books, The Bride Test is even better, more nuanced, and more moving that its predecessor. The Bride Test is a worthy addition to the Kiss Quotient trilogy, and a rare example of the sequel outshining the first book. Helen Hoang is already improving her craft, and readers will surely anticipate the third and final installment next year.