In the name of Zoom quarantine birthdays, a few of my closest friends got together and created a powerpoint & playlist of Taylor Swift songs that reminded them of me. One of these songs was Love Story, which was accompanied by the message “you’re a hopeless romantic and bury yourself in stories.” I’ve always been a hopeless romantic and someone who just loves love, but it’s always been difficult to see the only people getting happy ever afters be cis, white, and straight. Which is why anytime there’s a new romance or rom com novel out where it isn’t centered around a cis white straight couple, I instantly add it to my TBR. I’m not saying that I won’t read books that aren’t diverse; just that I’m less inclined to, and when I’m going through my TBR for a book, it usually isn’t my first pick. When I first heard about Rent a Boyfriend, I was immediately interested — I mean, fake dating to appease your parents, mooncakes, an entirely Taiwanese cast, and that stunning pink cover? Sign me up.
- Title: Rent a Boyfriend
- Author: Gloria Chao
- Publisher: Simon Pulse
- Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Romance, Rom Com
- Age Range: Young Adult
- Trigger warnings: Fatphobia, Cancer (parent with cancer), misogyny, slut shaming, racism, xenophobia, family estrangement, homophobia, manipulation, deceit
- Review: ★★★★★
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?
Rent a Boyfriend was one of my favorite reads of 2020, to the point where I finished it in one sitting one November evening, and then instantly asked my group of friends if they wanted to buddy read it again. It’s a book that I just so badly wish I had when I was younger. While I’m from Hong Kong, and Chloe and her family are Taiwanese, I could relate to so much of Chloe and Drew’s dynamics with their parents. Choosing yourself, or choosing the path that your family wants for you is never an easy thing, especially when you add in community pressures, and miànzi (面子). And how do you grapple with that, when so much of their strong-willed concern is rooted in a place of love and concern? As a 1.5 gen immigrant kid, it’s always been something that I try to keep in mind — The neverending questions about careers and relationships that I get slammed with every Lunar New Year, every holiday season really, are all stemmed from a place of love and concern. It’s a plate of freshly cut fruit, only instead of masquerading an “I Love You” or “I’m Sorry”, scrutinizing questions about your education, career and your loved ones are actually “Are you okay? Are you taking care of yourself? Who is taking care of you? Who will take care of you when your parents aren’t here to do so?”
“I can’t have the relationship I want with my parents until I give us a fresh slate to start from. I’ve been too afraid of there being no slate after I tell them the truth—which is still a possibility —but I can’t live in between anymore. I know you get that.”
Reading Rent a Boyfriend was like revisiting my younger self. I’ve never felt the need to rent a fake boyfriend to take home to my mother, but I would be lying if the idea didn’t tempt me at times when extended family is involved — I mean, there’s only so many “When are you bringing a boy home? When are you getting married?” questions that I can take. What was most relatable, though, was how Chloe seemed to have so many different versions of herself; the one that she was at school, the one she was at home with her family, and the one she was with Drew. I spent so much of my youth stifling and shielding who I was from my family, or picking choices simply because they were the ones that would please my family, so following Chloe’s journey to be her true and honest self simply hit home.
“Bǎbá and I have been lucky to find this community, to live in America and hold on to our culture. It’s a luxury. Maybe… maybe I haven’t always thought about what it must be like for you, being in that environment but also growing up in America. It can’t be easy.”
Growing up, I was always told how lucky I was to be able to move to America, to be promised a “better education”. The underlying sentiment of how much was sacrificed for this “better life” and “better education” was never lost on me, including ties to my home and my culture. Chloe has quickly joined the neverending list of my favorite YA female characters. She’s funny, witty, caring, and compassionate, a hard worker, loving, and relatable. But my favorite thing about her is that her being Taiwanese isn’t her entire identity, but a part of who she is. Just like Chloe, I struggled – and still struggle – with not being enough of one culture.
Rent a Boyfriend is unapologetically Taiwanese, and a true delight. I’m a huge lover of romance and rom coms, and to see one with a Taiwanese cast was just so refreshing. I can’t name many rom coms that do the same. Chang’e is one of my favorite legends, and seeing her story incorporated into Rent a Boyfriend made me smile.
As a love interest, Drew was completely swoon worthy, with his heart of gold, unending support, and nuggets of wisdom. I loved how much he truly cared about Chloe, and how was just as invested in the chapters where it was centered around his perspective as I was Chloe’s. Most importantly, I thought Chloe and Drew complimented each other really well, and were monumental in helping each other heal and develop. I was as invested in their dynamic as I was in them as separate entities.
Overall, I absolutely adored Rent a Boyfriend, and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good rom-com. Not to mention, it’s centered around the holidays — What better time to read it than right now, during holiday season?
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.
Her award-winning books have been featured on the “Best of” lists of Seventeen, Bustle, Barnes & Nobles, PopSugar, Paste Magazine, and more. American Panda received four starred trade reviews, was on the Amelia Bloomer list, and was a Junior Library Guild Selection, Indie Next Pick, and YALSA Teen’s Top 10 Pick.
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