It’s finally release week for Rent a Boyfriend!!! I’m so excited to be a part of the blog tour hosted by Hear Our Voices. Rent a Boyfriend was one of my most anticipated releases of this year. I already interviewed Gloria about the book and her second book Our Wayward Fate on my blog earlier this year for Taiwanese American Heritage Week, so if you haven’t read that, go check it out (I also interviewed her about her debut, American Panda, in 2017 if you want to go back even further). Also, stay tuned for my favorite quotes/a bonus mini playlist (did not sign up to do one but I couldn’t help putting one together as I read) for Rent a Boyfriend in a separate post.
Rent a Boyfriend by Gloria Chao
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: November 10, 2020
Genre: YA Contemporary
Pages: 320 pages
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before meets The Farewell in this incisive romantic comedy about a college student who hires a fake boyfriend to appease her traditional Taiwanese parents, to disastrous results, from the acclaimed author of American Panda.
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 just occurred to me that I never reviewed either American Panda or Our Wayward Fate on my blog (sad life), so this is my first time really gushing about Gloria’s books/writing here. American Panda captured my heart with its mix of humor and heart back in 2017 when I was lucky enough to read the ARC ahead of its early 2018 release. Gloria has a signature style that has appeared in each of her books, including Rent a Boyfriend. It’s an unapologetic celebration of and tribute to the language and culture of Taiwanese and Chinese Americans, full of tongue-in-cheek puns and allusions.
While Rent a Boyfriend has mostly been hyped as a romcom with the fake dating trope, and it definitely did make me laugh out loud multiple times, it’s also very much a sentimental coming-of-age story that explores the complicated relationship between diaspora kids and their parents and culture. Both Chloe and Drew struggle to reconcile what they want for themselves with what their parents want for them. Drew puts up a front around everyone but his family and paid the price when he decided to drop out of college and pursue art. Meanwhile, Chloe has been playing the role of the perfect daughter in front of her parents and is realizing just how suffocating and unsustainable it is. When their paths cross, they begin to push each other onto a path toward being confident in their true selves.
The romance between Chloe and Drew is a mix of playful inside jokes and deeply vulnerable heart-to-hearts. Both Chloe and Drew have deep-seated insecurities that have held them back, and their budding romance brings all of those issues to the fore in messy ways. The thrill and joy of finding someone who gets them is shadowed by the lies they’ve constructed and the secrets they’ve kept close to their hearts to protect themselves after being hurt by those they love most. These tensions and conflicts are explored throughout the book, establishing its emotional core and fueling Chloe and Drew’s character arcs.
Although the romance is central to free story, I’d argue that the biggest conflict within the story is between Chloe and her mother. Chloe desperately wants her mother to be happy but resents shrinks under the constant criticisms she receives from her. Money, appearances, and purity are everything to Chloe’s mother. Their mother-daughter relationship is poisoned by internalized misogyny. Chloe tries her best to push back against these oppressive ideals, with limited success. She later learns that there is a reason behind it all, and the story balances understanding where her mother is coming from with breaking the cycle of toxicity.
As the comp to The Farewell hints, there’s a hidden cancer diagnosis in the story. Chloe finds out her parents have been hiding her father’s cancer from her and it is a source of sadness and fear for her. She struggles to understand why they would keep something so important from her, among other things. This aspect of the story hit very close to home for me since I also experienced something similar, albeit on a milder level, when my family hid my mom’s cancer diagnosis from me for a week to keep it from affecting my mental state while preparing for a college interview. Even knowing why they did it, it still hurt.
Overall, Rent a Boyfriend was such an emotional experience. I was so invested in Chloe and Drew’s stories. I laughed and sighed and teared up at various points in the story. I think it’s my new favorite from Gloria.
Content/Trigger Warnings: misogyny, slut-shaming, fat-shaming, classism homomisia, cancer
About the Author:
Gloria Chao is the critically acclaimed author of American Panda, Our Wayward Fate, and Rent a Boyfriend. When she’s not writing, you can find her with her husband on the curling ice or hiking the Indiana Dunes. After a brief detour as a dentist, she is now grateful to spend her days in fictional characters’ heads instead of real people’s mouths.
Visit her tea-and-book-filled world at GloriaChao.wordpress.com and find her on Twitter and Instagram @GloriacChao.