In her second romantic comedy for older YA readers, Gloria Chao takes the favorite trope of the “fake-relationship-turned-real” and adds a unique spin. Gloria Chao draws her influence for Rent a Boyfriend from a real practice in some Asian countries where women hire fake boyfriends to alleviate the pressure to find a husband. Except Chao does a diasporic take, United States edition: Rent for Your ’Rents is a company that provides fake boyfriends for rent to impress even the most demanding or traditional Asian parents.
Chloe Wang, known to her family as Jing Jing, is a student majoring in economics at the University of Chicago. But that alone is not enough to appease her parents’ worries about her future. Facing pressure to marry Hongbo, a wealthy bachelor with a less than appealing personality, she desperately turns to Rent for Your ’Rents as an escape from becoming his fiancée.
Enter Andrew (real name: Drew) Chan, the Rent for Your ’Rents operative hired to impress Chloe’s parents. Except things get messy when Chloe’s parents aren’t the only ones charmed by Andrew, and Drew’s real background as a college dropout and aspiring artist is definitely not parentally approved. . .
Rent a Boyfriend takes a deeper dive into the fundamental issue at its center, the conflict that leads Chloe to hire a Rent for Your ’Rents operative in the first place. The difficulty in communicating with her immigrant parents across cultural and generational values, and the desire to please them pressures her to become two people: Jing Jing at home in Palo Alto, and Chloe Wang at school in Chicago. The focus on this struggle at the center of the book makes Chloe’s character development all the more satisfying to witness.
However, considering this was a dual point-of-view book, I wish we had seen more of Drew outside of his relationship with Chloe. At times, he feels like more of a supporting character than one of the narrators. While he does have a history and his character is well-developed, the central theme of intergenerational conflict caused by cultural rifts and miscommunication could have been stronger if there were flashbacks or more discussion of Drew’s own struggles with those similar issues. Nevertheless, I appreciated the details within the text itself—the specifics of how Rent for Your ’Rents operates, the inside jokes and cultural aspects that represent Chloe’s own evolving comfort with her Taiwanese background.
Rent a Boyfriend is a romantic comedy, but I wouldn’t go so far as to consider it a lighthearted read. The struggles Chloe encounters in her turbulent relationship with her parents and tight-knit Asian-American community is heartbreaking to read at times. But the central realizations these difficulties contribute to Chloe’s overall character development are critical. These central elements give the book more of a serious tone than other popular uses of the ‘fake-relationship-turned-real’ trope, where much of the focus lies in the moments where the internal conflict is differentiating between the act and genuine feelings.
As the second book I have read by Gloria Chao, Rent a Boyfriend didn’t resonate with me as strongly as her debut, American Panda. But the authenticity at the core makes Rent a Boyfriend just as much worth the read.
Rent a Boyfriend by Gloria Chao is now available wherever books are sold.