By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
The Bride Test
By Helen Hoang
Khai Diep doesn’t really have emotions. While he might feel little things like irritation or contentment, he doesn’t do the big ones like grief. Or love. But his family knows better. Due to his autism, he just processes emotions differently. So his mother takes it upon herself to travel 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. So when she meets Khai’s mother, who presents her with the opportunity to meet a potential husband, Esme grabs it.
Through Khai and Esme, Hoang shows us how it’s possible to fall for someone you’ve known for only a short period of time. We see how their relationship develops under unusual circumstances and the obstacles they have to overcome.
With Khai, Hoang does a great job of showing readers how someone on the spectrum may process things and act in a relationship. Khai is someone who loves routine and likes things done a certain way. So seeing how Esme disrupts his life is fun to watch. But as the two get to know each other better, we see Khai slowly adjust his life to make space for Esme—without realizing what he is doing.
As an immigrant, Esme’s time in the United States is not easy. But instead of wallowing in her situation, she is proactive and works to change things. She may see herself as “not classy,” but she doesn’t apologize for this. Instead, she owns it and everyone else can just take her or leave her.
“Bride Test” also features strong secondary characters, including Khai’s brother Quan, who is my favorite. Seeing how well Quan understands his brother—taking Khai’s autism into consideration, but still giving him a hard time (like an older brother should)—is a great display of brotherly love. Hoang is currently working on Quan’s love story next, and I for one am eagerly waiting for it.
A House for Happy Mothers
By Amulya Malladi
Lake Union Publishing, 2016
Living in Silicon Valley, Priya has a great life: a loving husband, good career, and a beautiful home. But what she wants more than anything, and cannot have, is a child. So when she learns about Happy Mothers House, a clinic in India that specializes in surrogacy, she and her husband go for it.
Asha, the woman they select to carry their baby, is from a southern Indian village, raising her two children in a tiny hut with her husband. She reluctantly rents out her womb to the couple in order to fund a better education for her gifted son.
“Happy Mothers” delves into the world of surrogacy.
Through the eyes of a prospective mother, as well as a surrogate, Malladi shows readers the best and worst things about India’s surrogacy industry. Both Priya and Asha struggle with the situation—questioning the ethics of their situation, whether Asha is being exploited and whether all of it is even worth it in the end.
Through Priya, Malladi shows readers how struggles with infertility can affect a couple. She shows the strain it can have on them physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Through Asha, we see how surrogacy can affect a woman, as her emotions range from disgust with herself, to happiness for helping a childless couple, to resignation at having to do what she must for her family. Malladi also shows the emotional toll surrogacy can have on a woman, as Asha struggles against becoming attached to the baby growing inside her.
Before this, I had never really given much thought to surrogacy. While “Happy Mothers” shows readers a very specific type of surrogacy overseas, the story opened my eyes to what people might go through in such a situation.
Patron Saints of Nothing
By Randy Ribay
Jay Reguero is in his final semester of high school, and he plans to spend it playing video games until he graduates and is off to the University of Michigan. But then he learns that his cousin Jun has been murdered in the Philippines as part of President Duterte’s war on drugs. And no one in the family will talk about it. So Jay travels to the Philippines to learn what happened.
But finding answers isn’t as easy as it may seem and Jay faces off with Jun’s dad, a police chief inspector who runs his household as strictly as a police department. As he learns more about his cousin, Jay begins questioning how well he really knew his cousin and struggles to shake the guilt he feels in the part he played in the events that led to Jun’s death.
“Patron Saint” is the story of a young man who goes back to his home country, initially to learn about his cousin’s death, but also to reconnect with family. And as little as he knows about them, it soon becomes clear that due to the fact that his family doesn’t really talk about anything important, they’re also in for a few surprises from each other. Like most families, the Regueros are a complicated bunch and Ribay does a great job of showing readers their complexities and flaws.
Ribay also doesn’t shy away from showing readers the hard truths of the Philippines’ war on drugs, which has been happening since Duterte took office in 2016. I have to admit that I had no clue about this. And I know I won’t be the only one who is unaware. As heartbreaking as some of the facts were, I think it is necessary for readers to realize what is happening to people in other parts of the world. As big as the drug war may be, Ribay uses the Reguero family’s story to humanize the issue and hopefully get more people talking about it.
Samantha can be reached at email@example.com.