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This blog was featured on 05/11/2019
Helen Hoang on Authenticity and Writing about Autistic Characters
Written by
She Writes
May 2019
Written by
She Writes
May 2019

Last year, debut novelist Helen Hoang established herself as a writer to watch with The Kiss Quotient, in which she wrote about an autistic woman who hires an escort to teach her about relationships and romance. On the autistic spectrum herself, this was a deeply personal and exploratory story for Hoang, and one that resonated greatly with the literary world. In fact, it was so well received that Hoang recently announced on Twitter that Lionsgate  has The Kiss Quotient slated for the big screen.

Check out Helen Hoang on Personal Reflection and Discovery through Her Debut Novel >

Now the author is back with an equally personal tale in her latest rom-com The Bride Test. This time, her hero, Khai Diep, cousin to The Kiss Quotient’s Michael, is autistic — a young man who believes he has no feelings because of the stereotypes surrounding autism that have worn him down. Again, Hoang drew on her personal experiences and thoughts on the complicated emotionality of autism.

“I would love for someone on the spectrum to read this book and to feel validated that they are emotional,” she tells Entertainment Weekly. “That they are kind. That they have feelings.”

The excerpt above was originally published on Entertainment Weekly. Read the full interview here.

On Inspiration

While The Bride Test is set in present-day, Hoang took inspiration from her mother. As a Vietnam war refugee, her stories of fear, desperation, bravery and escape set the scene for this book’s heroine, Esme Tran – a young woman who agrees to an arranged marriage for the chance at a better life for her family… and as a result, unexpectedly finds love.   

Hoang, who recently lost her mother, says the book has been a way to preserve her mother’s best stories and memories.

“She worked 19 hours a day, but she had that drive because she wanted to take care of her family and she wanted to prove herself. I can remember all that when I look at this book. I’m hoping over time, it will erase the memory of what she was like at the end, and then I will only see the good parts.”

This excerpt was originally published in Entertainment Weekly. Read the full interview here.

On Writing about Autistic Characters

“There was this website I looked at — I don't want to tell you what it is, because I don't want to drive traffic there — but it, basically they say that autistic people are heartless, and that we don't experience empathy, we are selfish and cold, and anyone who's had a relationship could go on there and kind of air their grievances and say how horrible it was. And I'm sure that those situations exist, but I can't accept that that's a rule. So Khai, this character, was born from that injustice” she says. “I wanted to write a character and show how he may look cold, he may look heartless, he might even think he's heartless, but he's not. And I wanted to show what that disconnect is, and how different people experience emotions and process emotions in different ways, and there isn't a one right way.”

This excerpt was originally published on NPR. Listen to the full interview here.

On Authenticity

Hoang shares that one of her motivations to write is to break down misconceptions that love and relationships aren’t for everyone. In doing so, she offers hope to others, while also reminding herself that she is worthy, deserving, and loveable, all the same.

“I want to believe that I can be a main character, I can be a leading character in my life, that I can have a happily ever after, that I can find true love, and I can get married, and conquer, and be happy. And I think one thing for my books is yes, my characters have sexual intimacy, and I think that's also important, to show autistic people can have these very full lives, and experience things that regular people do. I sometimes run into people who find my portrayal to be offensive and insensitive, by giving people normal lives, which is, it kind of breaks my heart every time I hear that. Because I'm married, I have kids, my husband loves me as a woman. I am a woman, and I have the same needs and desires as anybody else. And I wanted to communicate all of those things by kind of tearing down all the perceptions, and not handling autistic people with kid gloves.”

This excerpt was originally published on NPR. Listen to the full interview here.

Photo Credit: Adam Amengual

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