I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Rent a Boyfriend by Gloria Chao
Also by this author: American Panda, Our Wayward Fate
Published by Simon Pulse on November 10, 2020
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 320 •Format: E-ARC •Source: NetGalley
Chloe Wang is nervous to introduce her parents to her boyfriend, because the truth is, she hasn’t met him yet either. She hired him from Rent for Your ’Rents, a company specializing in providing fake boyfriends trained to impress even the most traditional Asian parents.
Drew Chan’s passion is art, but after his parents cut him off for dropping out of college to pursue his dreams, he became a Rent for Your ’Rents employee to keep a roof over his head. Luckily, learning protocols like “Type C parents prefer quiet, kind, zero-PDA gestures” comes naturally to him.
When Chloe rents Drew, the mission is simple: convince her parents fake Drew is worthy of their approval so they’ll stop pressuring her to accept a proposal from Hongbo, the wealthiest (and slimiest) young bachelor in their tight-knit Asian American community.
But when Chloe starts to fall for the real Drew—who, unlike his fake persona, is definitely not ’rent-worthy—her carefully curated life begins to unravel. Can she figure out what she wants before she loses everything?
It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of YA set in college, so I was eager to dive into Gloria Chao’s newest novel, Rent a Boyfriend. Having adored American Panda, I was eager to experience her witty yet realistic storytelling centered on a first generation American college student. Chao’s latest novel did not disappoint, and at times felt full of more emotional turmoil than her fantastic debut novel.
The novel seems to have a surprising plot at first- Chloe hires a fake boyfriend through a service to bring home for the Thanksgiving holiday to get her parents off her case about pursuing a suitor of their choosing. While it’s definitely the set up of many a rom-com holiday movie, it carried extra weight in this context. As the author mentions herself, this is not necessarily an uncommon practice in Asia and in Chloe’s case it’s a last ditch, desperate effort to try to claim some independence over her life, rather than being forced into a proposal within someone who is just NOT a match for her (and not really a good person either). I really felt for Chloe trying to balance saving her parents’ feelings and reputation but also pursuing her independent wants and needs. Some of their interactions were truly heartbreaking, especially their inability to see what she wanted out of life and a partner and their skewed prioritization of the traits they wanted a husband to have for her.
I appreciated how the novel really explored Chloe’s parents’ community and provided some depth to their actions and at times alarming life advice. There’s some excellent scenes where Chloe is out with Drew (the fake boyfriend) in her Asian community and seeing her parents’ beliefs and biases echoed tenfold in their community really helped flesh out both her parents’ behavior as well as why Chloe has internalized so much resentment yet responsibility and guilt when it comes to pursuing her dreams. I thought that this was a nice touch that will help readers to understand the dynamics at play more genuinely.
While the family and personal growth aspects of the novel were engaging, the romance was often over the top and almost cheesy. I really liked Chloe and Drew as individuals and their relationship seemed to work (I also liked how they were quick to call out each other on biases and stereotypes that they had internalized from their own childhoods and pushed each other to be better) I just felt that it happened very quickly. While I loved their inside jokes (mooncakes, sheeps in anti-gravity boots, etc), I also felt that they both became invested in each other unreasonably quickly without really knowing each other that well. The romance read more high school than college to me, and when the big reveal happened it almost felt too easily resolved given the absolute heartburn and stress that Chloe’s parents had caused them (and me!) throughout a majority of the novel.
One thing I do want to emphasize is that I loved the holiday aspect of this book! For some reason I didn’t go in expecting it to be so holiday focused but given the premise I should have expected it, as Chloe “rents” Drew for Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc and Valentine’s Day and Lunar New Year are also featured. I remember how in college my interactions with my family were so dependent and measurable by holiday trips back home so I thought this was a fun framework for the story!
Overall: Rent a Boyfriend is a college set YA novel that has a balance of both emotional family moments as well as fluffy romantic content. It’s truly a coming of age story of a protagonist who is trying to honor both her parents’ heritage while navigating her own identity as an American, a theme that Chao explores deftly in all of her novels. Though the romance was a little too convenient for me, I overall really enjoyed this story!
*Many thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review!*