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by Helen Hoang

Pub Date: Aug. 31st, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-593-19783-7
Publisher: Berkley

A violinist struggling from burnout must face even bigger challenges.

After experiencing viral fame and an exhausting tour, Anna Sun can only hear flaws and mistakes when she plays music. She spends hours every day restarting the same piece of music, trying to make it perfect. When her therapist suggests Anna might be on the autism spectrum, she is relieved to finally understand herself better; unfortunately, her sister’s painful rejection of the idea leaves her feeling even more estranged from her family. After her boyfriend informs her he wants to be in an open relationship, Anna creates a profile and connects with Quan Diep on a dating app. The successful CEO of a small clothing company, Quan wants to enter the dating pool after a bout with cancer. Although they both want a no-strings affair, Anna discovers how easy it is to be her real self with Quan. The first half of the novel shows their relationship morphing into one of mutual caring and respect. When Anna’s father suffers a debilitating stroke without a medical directive, Anna and her mother and sister decide to care for him at home. Hoang unflinchingly describes the physically exhausting work of caretaking, which is coupled with Anna’s emotionally wrenching conviction that her father does not want to live this way. The primary themes in the second half are about filial piety and how Anna’s endless self-sacrifice without corresponding acceptance from her family pushes her to create limits and boundaries. Quan is a solid, steady presence but mostly relegated to the back burner. In the afterword, Hoang calls the book “half memoir,” which helps explain why it feels like half a romance. Genre readers will have to judge for themselves if the romance plot satisfies, but those desperate for fiction that explores the crushing weight of caregiving will find it here.

Grief and suffering make for an emotionally moving novel, but without fully exploring healing and recovery, is it a romance?