Rent a Boyfriend by Gloria Chao. Simon & Schuster, 9781534462458, 2020
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3.5
Genre: Realistic fiction/romance
What did you like about the book? Chloe (Taiwanese name Jing-Jing) tries to get her parents off her back about getting engaged to awful Hongbo by renting a boyfriend to bring home for the Thanksgiving holiday (apparently this is a real practice in some Asian countries, according to an author’s note.) As in any good rom-com, things get sticky right away when she starts to fall for fake-date Drew and he for her. Because he’s not a University of Chicago pre-med; he’s actually an aspiring artist who’s become estranged from his parents after dropping out of college. Chao spends most of the book in 4 way encounters between the two generations, misunderstanding each other over frequent (and delicious) Taiwanese meals, both at home and in restaurants. This is a fantasy, a head-over-heels romance, with lots of cuteness, kissing, and texting. Jing-Jing’s parents are observant Christians who are opposed to pre-marital sex, so teens who share those values will find this a match, although the couple does occasionally go in hot-and-heavy and there’s a bit of frank and earthy language. Some readers just love those fake-boyfriend-who-turns-out-to-be-the-ONE scenarios, so this book is for all of you!
Anything you didn’t like about it? It definitely had some over-the-top soap-opera moments. Hongbo isn’t just slightly bad; he’s dreadful enough to take Jing-Jing to a strip club for a first date and has already fathered a child out-of-wedlock. Jing-Jing never does anything by halves: brashly announcing a fake pregnancy at a holiday party to get out of that engagement, which results in thrown punches. The whole fake boyfriend trope seemed a bit questionable to me (isn’t that sort of like an escort service?) Chao doesn’t let us see the story from the parents’ perspective, which would have given the book more substance. One of my recent favorites, Frankly in Love by David Yoon, covers the fake dating to meet impossible parental demands with more depth, humor, and sense of place.
To whom would you recommend this book? Die-hard romantics. The truly awesome cover-art will definitely draw a lot of eyes. Students who struggle to meet adult expectations around dating and love, especially in immigrant or more traditional religious families, might find this a satisfying read.
Who should buy this book? High school and public libraries
Where would you shelve it? YA fiction
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA
Date of review: January 25, 2021