When Helen Hoang’s debut novel, The Kiss Quotient, hit shelves in 2018, it was an instant hit, earning rave reviews for its poignant tale of an autistic woman who hires an escort to make her more comfortable with intimacy and finds herself falling in love with him.
Readers immediately fell for Hoang’s sensitively drawn characters and her incredible personal journey of discovery that came alongside the book — but they also latched on to one of her supporting characters, Michael’s cousin Quan, and have been clamoring for him to get his own love story ever since.
Now, with The Heart Principle, their wish has been granted. While much of the book is still under wraps, including the release date and the heroine’s name, EW can exclusively reveal the cover for Hoang’s highly anticipated third novel, as well as the first excerpt from the book.
Readers will note that Quan is conspicuously absent from the cover art, and Hoang says that was intentional. “I want people to draw him themselves in their minds,” she says. “I don’t want to take that from them by offering something. We want people to imagine their own Quan.”
The excerpt below opens things from Quan’s point of view and introduces us to a fierce woman kicking everyone’s butt in a kendo tournament. While Hoang wrote her first two novels in relative anonymity, she says the rabid interest in Quan has made this writing experience extremely difficult, particularly when it came to devising the heroine.
“I struggled with how I would write her for a long time,” the author says. “I felt like people wanted her to be this way and other people would probably want her to be another way, and finally I thought about the people in my life who I love who are quirky. I’m writing her the way that certain people that I know are, like my daughter and my little sister.”
Just as The Kiss Quotient ties to her own diagnosis and The Bride Test parallels her mother’s immigrant story, The Heart Principle will be a very personal book for Hoang. For starters, she’s a lover of kendo and other martial arts — and even owes her own love story to them. “I do really like martial arts,” she says. “I practice kendo. I’ve done taekwondo, I have a black belt in taekwondo. I’ve boxed… I’ve done a lot of different types of martial arts. It’s how I met my husband. It’s just something that I really love. It’s definitely something women can excel at, and I’ve known women who are better at it than all the guys they know. It’s just fun to write that.”
Hoang stresses that though the main themes of the novel will be very personal, they will also be relatable. “Learning to follow your own path despite other people’s expectations — that’s something people can identify with,” she says. “We have so many expectations — from society, from family, from wherever — and learning to be your own person despite all of that is something everybody might struggle with.”
Check out the book cover and excerpt below.
Excerpt from The Heart Principle, by Helen Hoang
There were worse things than losing to a teenaged girl when you were a grown man in your prime. You could lose to a five-year-old, for example. Or to something that wasn’t even alive, like a wall. In Quan’s defense, that had only happened the one time, and he’d been drunk off his ass.
Today, he didn’t have the excuse of drunkenness. To put it plainly, he hadn’t been practicing as often due to work and was getting rusty. Also, that girl was ninja fast.
He couldn’t see much through the metal cage covering her face, but he knew she was a girl because of the long black pony tail sticking from the back of her helmet and the way she shouted as she struck him. Plus, even in full armor, girls had a certain look. He didn’t know exactly what it was. He could just tell.
Anyway, it was a Saturday afternoon, he’d just lost to a girl for the first time ever, and his teacher was mumbling to himself and shaking his head. His cousin Michael smirked at him before pulling his own helmet on.
As Quan tied Michael’s laces for him, he said, “You can quit grinning like a smartass. Watch her beat you too.”
He sent a silent prayer to the kendo gods: Please, let her beat the shit out of him. No sense in Quan experiencing this stab to the balls by himself. If what didn’t kill you made you stronger, they could grow stronger together. Sharing caring and all that.
“We’ll see. You’re getting slow in your old age,” Michael said.
Quan rolled his eyes. They were the same damn age. “I’m too busy running your apparel company.”
“Our apparel company.”
He didn’t have a quick response for that. Like most apparel companies, they’d named the business after their lead designer—Michael Larsen. As CEO, Quan had wanted to stay behind the scenes and stick to the business side of things, but somehow his name and face were getting out there anyway. People seemed to get a kick out of photographing him and Michael together. According to Vogue magazine, they were an “edgy contrast in sophistication and raw intensity,” whatever that meant.
He tried not to let the press go to his head. He was still the same inside and out, and if he started thinking he was a big deal, he’d have a long way to fall when the success didn’t last.
Because good things never lasted. Not for him.
When he was done with Michael’s laces, he patted his chest protector to let him know he was ready, and Michael did a few running strikes with his wooden sword, moving lightly on the balls of his feet. On the other side of the ring, the girl paced back and forth like the pendulum on an old clock. Or a tiny vicious shark.
Soon the referee was calling both fighters to the center of the ring, and they were facing off. At more than six feet in height, Michael towered over the girl. Defeating her should have been simple. But as they fought, she used her speed to either stay out of reach or get too close to hit and—one point. Before Quan knew it, she’d won 3-1, and Michael was ripping his helmet off and staring at her with a mixture of awe and shock.
Quan patted him on the shoulder. “I told you so.” He loved saying that, especially to Michael.
Thank you, kendo gods.
“She’s so fast,” Michael said.
“Yeah, she gets inside your range and…”
Quan’s words trailed off when she began untying the laces on her helmet.
Moment of truth here. This was an unofficial kind of tournament, so she could be as young as thirteen and still compete in the adult division. If that were the case, Quan was taking Michael out for Irish car bombs later. They needed to erase the defeat from their brains with massive amounts of alcohol.
Just how young was she?
Michael looked afraid.
Quan braced his nuts for impact.
Her helmet came off. And he forgot to breathe.
She wasn’t thirteen. In fact, she wasn’t a girl at all. She was a woman, his age maybe, which made her a unicorn at a local tournament like this. Damned if he knew why more women didn’t compete. They just didn’t.
A deep, quiet confidence emanated from her like she owned the place, which she basically did as grand champion of the entire tournament. Her cheeks were flushed, and her dark eyes sparkled like he imagined a predator’s would after a kill.
“I think I’ve just met my dream woman,” Quan said.
She could only be more perfect if she rode a motorcycle.
“Seriously?” Michael said as he came to stand beside Quan and followed the direction of Quan’s gaze. “Did you forget the part where she beat us both up?”
Quan shook his head. That part was sexy. Definitely not a drawback. He was man enough to be with a woman who was more talented than he was.
“Are you going to get her number or something?” Michael asked.
“That’s a good suggestion.”
But his legs hesitated to move. His heart beat faster than usual, and a tingly feeling spread from his scalp down his nape and all over. Approaching women wasn’t generally a big deal for him—“nothing ventured, nothing gained” was his motto—but he kind of thought he was…nervous. That only made him want to talk to her more.
He inhaled a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and headed toward her.
- Helen Hoang on how her mother’s immigrant story inspired The Bride Test
- Graeme Simsion and Helen Hoang on the power and challenges of autistic representation in literature
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