“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?”
-Synopsis from Goodreads
Rent a Boyfriend was on my TBR list as soon as it was announced, since I have been reading Gloria Chao’s books for years now and have enjoyed them. I really liked the idea of this book and how it was inspired by real-life practices in some Asian countries in which women will “rent” someone to pretend to be their boyfriend so their families won’t constantly pressure them to find a husband.
This book started off really strong for me. Chloe is arriving home for Thanksgiving break and meeting up with a guy who lives in Palo Alto, her home town, who is going to pretend to be her boyfriend for the weekend. It was interesting to see Drew/Andrew play this role and how Chloe and her parents believed every word of it. Of course, it wasn’t going to end that weekend, and Chloe ultimately has to “book” Drew again come Christmas.
Chloe’s internal and external conflicts surround her separating her Chinese identity from her life outside her home, and wanting to please her parents but constantly feeling misunderstood. The biggest issue she faces right now is that her parents have set her up to marry a family friend whom she detests. Eventually she opens up to Drew about why she can’t stand the guy her parents chose for her. By that that point, Drew has fallen for Chloe and he is determined to help her get her parents to see that the suitor is not right for her. Through alternating chapters we learn about Drew, specifically how he ended up working for the boyfriend rental agency and just how much he has in common with Chloe, outside of the fake boyfriend persona.
I liked this book. However, the first thing I noticed was that the inside cover says it’s recommended for ages twelve and up, and the book itself read as more of a teen or even adult book. There is a lot of cursing, mature topics, and Chloe herself is in college so I don’t think that would be appealing to someone who is twelve or around that age. Something else I noticed was that the dual chapters between Drew and Chloe were so similar. If I didn’t pay close attention to whose chapter it was, I would forget halfway through and have to reorient myself.
The book itself was nearly four hundred pages and I am going to have to agree with other readers/reviewers that it seemed too long. We go from November to early spring, and so much is going on in Chloe’s life that it seemed like every piece of it is brought up. Was it all necessary? I’m not too sure. For example, I think the storyline with her father’s health could have been cut.
I also think that there was a lot of over-explanation of things that didn’t need that much detail. Whenever Chloe or Drew are making a joke, they state the fact that they are making a joke both internally and externally and then explain the joke. I don’t know that these were especially unique jokes in the sense that someone who wasn’t Asian wouldn’t have been able to follow along. Their special bond of having someone understand the joke (such as saying Mooncake Points instead of Brownie Points) wasn’t that unique to me to where it had to be explained so much.
By the second half of the book things were starting to feel repetitive. I was actually a little disappointed by the ending, too. I saw so much more for Chloe and Drew than what they ended up doing. It seemed a little too “perfect” or neatly tied up for me. The ending seemed more appropriate for a younger audience, while the entire rest of the book seemed more fit for an older audience.
This could have been such a perfect book if it was shorter and more concise but it felt dragged out. I feel bad saying that because I did enjoy so much of it, but towards the end I was reading quickly to hurry things up. Perhaps another reader will feel differently about all of this, but these were just my thoughts while reading.
Will I read another Gloria Chao book? Yes, because at the end of the day I think she’s providing a lot of insight to Asian cultures and communities that is important. I do find her characters relatable and each of her books has been unique and provided a perspective that (to my knowledge) hasn’t been explored very much in the literary world.