Rent A Boyfriend
by Gloria Chao
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?
Thank you to RivetedLit #25ReadsofDecember program!
01. A story that is close to my heart
What I love the most about this book is how familiar and close the story is to my heart. This book follows Chinese-American Chloe who rents a fake boyfriend to bring home for the holiday season- which is something that I would do if this service actually exists, if only to get my family off my back 🙃 The only reason I’m not in Chloe’s position is that I still have cousins that are older than me, but even now I already received some of the boyfriend questions. While the situation is hilarious on paper, but it’s a real scenario for me and it makes me really sad how many people actually resorts to do this.
Another reason why is because this story is set during the holiday season and it makes me really happy to see all the Chinese references, dishes, and habits on the pages. Despite some of the holiday being not Chinese ones (thanksgiving and christmas), there are still chinese dishes and values present around the table. The experiences, both good and bad, while not 100% similar to mine, are relatable and adds so much to my enjoyment of the story.
02. Features one of my favorite trope: fake romance
Fake-dating is a romantic trope that’s always fun to read about and despite its recent popularity, Rent A Boyfriend‘s take on the trope is still fresh and enjoyable to read! I really love the app concept, it’s super smart and I love how it’s weaved into their story instead of being a one-time thing. I also love how the fact that they’re both Asian-American means that their dialogue and relationships are infused with Asian values, including their banter, inside jokes, and how our couple opened up to each other. From mooncake points to Chang’e, the whole book was really fun to read!
03. Enjoyable characters
First of all, I love how both Chloe and Andrew are in university! I think the age fits perfectly for the story as they are more mature and reflective. But for me personally, it represents the new adult genre that is not filled with heavy, dramatic problems- something I’ve been looking for so long.
I love both Chloe and Andrew’s voice! Together, they are really cute and well-matched in how similar their sense of humor and experiences are. Watching them fell for each other was a delight 😍 This book also discussed a lot of important issues within the Chinese (Asian) communities and I love their outlook, how they are shaped by the communities they grew up in, their gender, and their experiences. Despite their differences, they are very empathetic, trying to see each other’s point of views and support each other, which helps them connect deeply despite their different background. Both Chloe and Andrew felt really realistic as we get a sense of their hopes, mistakes, and identity. They’re not perfect and their relationship does face some hurdles, but I love how they always strive to be better and to be happy. Plus points for how Chloe and Andrew both reflected my experiences- on feeling like we have to hide our true selves, sacrifices our dreams for filial piety, and frustrated with the communication barriers within the family. I really enjoyed reading about the characters and deeply cared for them.
Were we all pretending, putting on a better face to fool everyone around us, even our family? I guess I’d been doing that my whole life, with Jing-Jing. Did anyone else go by two names and feel like that separated who they were? Did Andrew’s other clients?
04. Balanced and nuanced discussion
There are some horrible things that I find horrible and inexcusable: Chloe’s parents behavior to her to get her with Hongbo, how Chloe’s community are constantly in brutal battle of one-upping each other, and how Drew’s parents treated him. Reading these things were honestly a bit triggering for me and made me feel disgusted.
On the other hand, this book also presents a nuanced discussion on racism, classism, and sexism that might shaped the communities and characters attitude observed in the book. For example is how Chloe’s mom experiences shaped her attitude towards Chloe. It doesn’t excuse her and made her apologetic for her actions, but it adds nuance to the story.
I’d sacrificed so much for my parents’ sake, yet we were still landing in this purgatory where no one was happy. Maybe the problem was trying to please both of us, having my (moon)cake and eating it too.
At the heart of all this mess is family. We see how Chloe loves her parents and want to make them happy, which makes her hides her true self and follow her parents expectations in order to please them. But at the same time she also wanted her own happiness and got frustrated with how she feels like she had no voice. This book presents an honest discussion on how expectations and lack of communication between parents and children can become a ticking time bomb within families. I think it’s handled very well in a way that both Chloe and Drew are mature, reflective, and empathetic so that they’re willing to hear the other side but also standing up for themselves.
Rent A Boyfriend is my first Gloria Chao books, but it certainly won’t be my last! It has all the elements for a perfect contemporary for me and it was certainly a fun read that hits unexpectedly close to home. The characters and the romance are superb, but it also has many poignant moments worth of the discussion that balanced out the moments and emotions. I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to read more of the author’s books!