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 has just started to understand herself. 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.
Anna, a gifted violinist is experiencing burnout from the pressure to be the most perfect performer she can be. At the same time, Anna struggles to live up to the standards and expectations that her family put on her as the youngest child. When Anna’s boyfriend takes her by surprise by telling her he wants an open relationship before he’s sure he wants to settle down with her, Anna decides to play him at his own game and sleep with someone else. Enter Quan. Together he and Anna forge a friends to lovers arc that will melt readers hearts. Tackling the darker sides of life, The Heart Principle tells the story of self discovery, healing and the bonds of family with the hope of finding meaningful connection that is a ray of light in life’s darker moments.
After falling absolute head over heels in love with The Kiss Quotient for the outstandingly positive portrayal of an autistic MC in a romance novel, I couldn’t get my hands on The Heart Principle fast enough.
A word of caution before going further: the story contains reference to past cancer and recovery, there’s an autism diagnosis, a family member’s stroke and subsequent care/palliative care, and there’s anxiety surrounding it all. Please take care if you may not presently be comfortable with this content.
So, it’s fair to say, this certainly delivered more than a fluffy smutty romance. It’s complex, emotional and thought provoking. Yet there were also moments where I was smiling ear to ear, feeling giddy and so joyful.
I looooooved Quan and Anna’s build, from tentative love interests to friends to lovers. I also loved their dating app interaction – I wish I could find my Quan to chat about lame but awesome octopus movies with!! They go from strength to strength, facing their insecurities together, finding solace in the other they haven’t found or felt comfortable sharing with anyone else, and it was just so tender.
I also loved how present Michael was (so you should definitely read The Kiss Quotient first!) and the brief cameo of Stella.
There were moments I became frustrated whilst reading how characters interacted, primarily Anna and her family, but that’s simply because of how much I cared for Anna. They made her voiceless and expected her to do whatever they wanted in the face of their opinions and wants, which pained Anna deeply. And I hated reading her pain.
Unlike The Kiss Quotient and The Bride Test, The Heart Principle deals with a main character, Anna, who is unaware they’re autistic and we follow the journey of their discovery and their diagnosis; the feelings and questions it entails, and the responses and attitudes that follow. The Heart Principle challenges its characters, and its reader alike, to face misconceptions of autism, of which was extremely emotional.
Combine this with the fact the story also explores the challenge of palliative care. Having literally experienced this in the past year, I can’t laud how much Hoang has done this justice. I felt the helplessness and isolation Anna experienced, and desperately wanted to help her. It was raw, gut wrenching and put frankly, powerful.
I personally would have preferred more romantic scenes between Quan and Anna to balance out the sorrow more, and more clarity on how things were left between Anna and her sister, which didn’t feel entirely resolved by the end.
All in all The Heart Principle is a true triumph of contemporary romance, giving a place for important discourse that if more widely understood, would make the world a better place, all the while illustrating a charming love story. It’s equally wonderful and tough, happy and sad, and entirely rewarding. I didn’t want to put it down, yet I didn’t want it to end. I won’t miss anything Hoang writes in future.
Thank you kindly to Corvus and Netgalley for an e-ARC in exchange for this honest review.