Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Helen Hoang - The Heart Principle

When violinist Anna Sun accidentally achieves career success with a viral YouTube video, she finds herself incapacitated and burned out from her attempts to replicate that moment. And when her longtime boyfriend announces he wants an open relationship before making a final commitment, a hurt and angry Anna decides that if he wants an open relationship, then she does, too. Translation: She’s going to embark on a string of one-night stands. The more unacceptable the men, the better.
That’s where tattooed, motorcycle-riding Quan Diep comes in. Their first attempt at a one-night stand fails, as does their second, and their third, because being with Quan is more than sex—he accepts Anna on an unconditional level that she herself has just started to understand. However, when tragedy strikes Anna’s family she takes on a role that she is ill-suited for, until the burden of expectations threatens to destroy her. Anna and Quan have to fight for their chance at love, but to do that, they also have to fight for themselves.

Comment: I believe I've been one of many readers out there who was eagerly awaiting for this book to be released. The author - or her publisher - had given indication it would come out in 2020 and then it didn't; I confess I assumed it was because of the pandemic and possible professional delays... apparently, the main reason, according to the author's note at the end of the book, was her own struggle to write. Personally, I wasn't disappointed with the end result but I can see why it could have gained if it had a bit more romance.

In this story, heroine Anna is going through a hard phase in her life. She feels the pressure of having to do well in her violin playing and having been given a piece just for her makes everything seem even more stressful. To top this and the fact her family doesn't understand her struggle, her boyfriend talks about marriage but first he wants an open relationship for a while, so that he "can be certain". Anna decides to do the same and see what could be missing if she would bet on someone different and that is how Quan, bother to hero from book #2, comes along. They hit if off swapping text messages but the first time they are metting, Anna has a change of heart. Still, Quan catches her anyway and they agree on one night. But will Anna be happy with just one night when Quan is everything she didn't know she wanted?

This book definitely focuses on Anna's journey into happiness. The fact she can enter a relationship with Quan at some point does seem to be jut a secondary element, depending on how one looks at this novel. I can understand why some readers wanted something sweeter and I agree perhaps some balance could have been reached to have both things. Or, if the romance didn't sem it had to be easy for the author to develop, then scenes of sweet or cute moments with previous characters could have given that idea anyway.

Having read the author's note, it's quite obvious this book was done as a sort of catharsis, a way to put on paper many of her own feelings on how she dealt with some issues related to her autism. I suppose the fact this plays such a big part of the main character's inner development makes it seem if she were to be more carefree or dedicated to a flirty romance, perhaps this issue would not have the same impact and it can pretty obvious from the start Anna doesn't have a good enough support system from her family in order to advance confidently in another path.

In fact her family dynamics and her own personality make it seem Anna wasn't as dedicated in her life, both personal and professional, to be well liked by her family. Yes, she is a good Asian girl and we have plenty of evidence throughout the book, but she is still seen as lazy sometimes. Of course, we learn alongside Anna, that perhaps her brain just works differently, and she has found a great coping mechanism to seem "normal" - or whatever one might want to define her as being - and that makes other assume she just doesn't want to go through the effort.

While Anna deals with her issues, Quan also has his own to think about. In the previous two books, about his cousin and then about his brother, I think the readers have managed to have a pretty good idea about Quan and how a great guy he is, how solid his personality and values are and despite some details that might not be as accepted by everyone  - he has tattoos, rides a motorcycle, was ladies' man - he is, at the end of the day, a good catch. I confess I wasn't aware of his medical problem nor if it was alluded/mentioned in any of the other books, but it did offer some new content to be explored here and Quan can seem more complex because of that.

What I think could be done better, if the author didn't want to increase the romance scenes or tone, could have been to divide the focus a little more so we could have more time in Quans' POV. It does feel as if the focus is too much on Anna's journey and I think Quan's issues are as important as Anna's. Perhaps there could be a way for this to feel ore balanced, so that when they realize they have deep feelings for one another, the reader could be more easily sold on that idea.

Anna's issues are severe and some scenes were hard to read. Not because they portrayed physical violence but because how easy it is so imagine psychological abuse happening all the time and one feeling unable to cope or react. It was a good thing the author was brave to write about this but, as some say, should this be the book where such a complex issue is dealt with? Could the author write this book in a different series or use this story differently and write Quan's romance more along the lines of the other books? Personally, I didn't mind it but I can see how his feels unfair to some people.

All in all, this is a book that one likes or dislikes by the same type of reason. I don't mind the road the author chose to take this on, but after so much time and probably some deep thinking, I think something could have been done to still release this specific story and one most readers would think they would get, based on the tone in the previous books in the series.
Grade: 7/10

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