A review by Nalini Haynes
Anna Sun needs to learn the Heart Principle. She gives her boyfriend Julian a blow job although she doesn’t like doing that. What’s worse is he expects her to swallow and she HATES that. Then she walks into the bathroom, brushes her teeth REALLY thoroughly, agonizes about “blow job face”, walks back out – and it’s obvious there is no reciprocation in their sex life. None.
THEN Julian dumps her. He wants to “see other people”. Like, not half an hour after he got the blow job he wanted. And he tells her he expects she won’t see other people while he’s screwing around. He’s a real keeper.
Anna reels. She chats to her online friends who are really supportive. Then she ventures onto Tinder for revenge sex. Her would-be revenge sex buddy is Quan, part of the family-and-friends grouping we’ve met in Hoang’s previous novels. And he is absolutely lovely.
They meet with an arrangement that they’ll only have sex once then it’s over. Quan wants it to be good for Anna even if requiring mutuality means he doesn’t get what he came for. He really is a keeper.
Through all of this we get to know Anna, whose therapist just diagnosed her as neurodivergent, sending her reeling again. And we meet Anna’s family who are obsessed with success, discipline and compliance from the youngest member of the family (surprisingly , that’s Anna).
Life, the universe and everything
I read this book as soon as it arrived, within 24 hours of first holding it. However, I’ve been struggling with writing reviews. Hell, I’ve been struggling to read books. In the last few months I’ve started reading some excellent books but, because of my personal struggles, I haven’t been able to connect with anything too serious or too real.
Comedy and romance were the only material I could really engage with. I’ve even struggled to watch some of the TV series hubby promoted. (I didn’t say anything, just watched and tried to follow stories. Or played Hearthstone while pretending to watch. Sometimes I went to bed for a nap while telling him to continue, but he wouldn’t continue watching without me, ARGH.)
But I love Helen Hoang’s books. They read like light romance with comedic elements even when her excellent character work delves into real issues.
So as soon as I received The Heart Principle, I read it. In record time – considering my current reading speed due to deteriorating eyesight.
Helen Hoang identifies as neurodivergent and has obviously also done her research. She’s also an Asian American; every one of her books features Asian Americans embedded in a rich cultural life. And her books – that I’ve read – all feature at least one character who is neurodivergent. Always respectfully, always written with love.
I have a nephew diagnosed in early childhood as neurodivergent. The more I read, the more I realize neurodivergent traits seem so normal to me that this difference (that often runs in families) is widespread in my family and in my parents’ friends surrounding me when I was a child.
Hoang’s books teach me in a light way without stigma while thoroughly entertaining me. What’s more, I always immediately want to re-read her books. Ooo, I just thought, I have an Audible subscription: I would LOVE to have her books playing for me while I craft and when my eyes are too tired to read (which is quite often these days). I hope her books are on Audible.
(Note: Helen Hoang’s books ARE on Audible, all three of them and in multiple languages.)
One of the heart-wrenching issues in The Heart Principle is Anna’s father’s illness. Suddenly he’s not the active person he was but is, instead, unable to communicate or even care for himself. The family takes shifts, giving up everything to care for him without outside help. And then Anna’s older sister takes off for a few weeks, leaving Anna and her mother caring for him 24/7. It’s horrendous.
Although caring for someone in this situation is far more taxing and demanding even than caring for small children, I felt I identified with caregiver fatigue. Back when my kids were little I found that if I even had one afternoon off a week, by putting my infant son in creche, I was more able to cope with life. I’m sure many others can identify with this one way or another.
Hoang raises issues like self-care and seeking help. The Heart Principle encourages people to be sensible and avoid burnout, although the focus is an entertaining fictional story.
The Heart Principle is a funny, romantic, heart-warming story about a neurodivergent woman facing a block in her career, family repression and control, and an awful boyfriend. The sex scenes are explicit and yet this is not an erotic novel as such: Anna and Quan developing their sexual relationship is a significant part of the plot.
Although Anna is neurodivergent and the novel has a bit of a focus on that point of difference, many readers will relate to her difficulties and, hopefully, her character development and emotional journey.
I highly recommend The Heart Principle as an excellent novel that hits all the right notes as a romance while also being a fabulous feminist read surpassing the limitations of any one genre.
Also, I highly recommend The Bride Test by Helen Hoang.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Publisher: Penguin Random House in the US; Allen & Unwin in Australia
Format: all the shiny formats but availability may depend on where you are in the world; 352 pages
Category: neurodivergent, romance, romantic comedy, dramedy