- Title: The Heart Principle
- Author: Helen Hoang
- Genre: contemporary fiction
- Intended audience: adult
- Format read: audiobook
- Publisher: Berkley
- Pub date: August 31, 2021
- Content warnings: family member illness, family member death, emotionally abuse family, ableism, anxiety and panic attacks, gaslighting
- Rating: 4/5 stars
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.
I was not entirely sure what to expect from The Heart Principle. I DNFed The Kiss Quotient, Helen Hoang’s debut, about four years ago. However, I was specifically looking for a romance with an Asian lead, and since there are not nearly as many of those as there should be, I decided that despite past experiences, I would give Hoang another try. In the end, I ended up really enjoying the book, but I also have some Thoughts™ which is why I am here.
I want to start out by noting that although this is a romance book, it’s not necessarily a RomCom, which is why I chose to classify it as simply contemporary fiction. The romance between Anna and Quan was indeed a significant part of the book, but it was also only a small piece of it. The novel captures some other extremely serious issues and can be incredibly somber at times.
Despite this disclaimer that it isn’t quite a romance, I did really love the romance between Anna and Quan. It was both sweet and sexy, with lots of consent which is amazing. It was really about building trust with each other, which I really enjoyed. I also really liked that both Anna and Quan had significant character journeys outside of their relationship. They both had personal things they had to come to terms with outside of their relationship, and I thought the way it was handled was generally very well.
My absolute favorite part of the book was Anna’s self-discovery. This may be seen as a minor spoiler, so feel free to skip to the next paragraph, but during the book Anna is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The story then follows Anna as she processes this information and begins to learn more about herself. The scene immediately following her diagnosis where Anna is immediately reacting to the information was one of the most poignant scenes I have ever read, and a big part of the reason I rated the book so highly. That scene alone made the book worth the read.
Something I always feel conflicted with is when a book manages to make me as angry as this one did. Many of Anna’s family members treat her horribly. There were times when I was absolutely fuming. And while I don’t particularly enjoy the sensation of being angry at fictional characters that I can’t tell off the way I want to, it is a sign of great writing when an author is able to make you feel something that strongly.
One very picky thing I have to say about the audiobook experience is that although I loved having two narrators, one for Anna’s perspective and one for Quan’s, they narrated at slightly different paces. Quan’s narration was a tiny bit faster than Anna’s which is just enough to bug me.
The main complaint I have is with the pacing. There is a very large chunk in the middle, approximately the 50-75% marks, in which Anna and Quan barely interact. Instead, it is mostly Anna dealing with the stress of having to take care of her ailing father while dealing with her abusive and manipulative family members, and the emotional toll it is taking on her. I found it to be relatively repetitive, and I think it could have been trimmed down a lot. And as much as I loved the way the ending really showed that recovery is neither rapid nor linear, the various time jumps felt a bit awkward.
In the end, I am very happy that I gave Helen Hoang another try. I loved reading about the characters and their journeys, and the things the novel had to say about art, love, and recovery. I would definitely recommend The Heart Principle, as long as you understand that what you are getting yourself into is an incredibly emotional ride.
Have you read any books by Helen Hoang? How did you like them?