The Song of Achilles

“Name one hero who was happy.” said Achilles. “You can’t.

“I can’t.

“I know. They never let you be famous and happy.” He lifted an eyebrow. “I’ll tell you a secret.

“Tell me.” I loved it when he was like this.

“I’m going to be the first.” He took my palm and held it to his. “Swear it.

“Why me?

“Because you’re the reason. Swear it.

“I swear.

Set in Greece in the Age of Heroes, The Song of Achilles starts as a retelling of Homer’s The Iliad, and then transforms into something wholly new and unique.

When Patroclus, an insecure young prince from a neighboring court, is exiled, he arrives at the court of King Peleus and meets the King’s perfect son, Achilles. Achilles is everything the stories said he would be: strong, brilliant, and beloved. As their relationship deepens, Patroclus begins to see another side of Achilles too that the stories don’t sing of: his humor, his gentleness, his boyish charm.

But then sources bring news that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Achilles and his father’s armies are sent off to war and Patroclus, balancing between love and fear, goes with him. Neither of them realize that the next years in Troy will hold battles, victories, enemies, and brutal defeats, with an all too inevitable end.

A lot of us had to read the Iliad in school, and a lot of us struggled, let’s just be real.

For most of my life I’ve personally found Achilles to be a somewhat unsympathetic archetype: the strong, handsome, brave warrior who sits above everyone else because he is so great on the battlefield. For some reason this archetype never appealed to me: it’s too perfect. Like Superman, there was always something off-putting for me about such inherent perfection. Even the battle of Troy, fought over a woman, seemed ludicrous to me. And yet I never wondered if perhaps the characters in the story felt the same way. After reading The Song of Achilles, I will never be able to see its characters in the same way that I used to, and it is a beautiful, wonderful thing.

This book was so hyped by the time that I read it that I was worried it would hurt my opinion of it. It didn’t. The Song of Achilles was heartbreaking and powerful, violent and profound, and utterly, all-consumingly, inevitably tragic.

Seen through Patroclus’ eyes, and Miller’s writing, it’s impossible not to see the stark humanity in the characters that make up this story. Patroclus does us the favor of seeing the best in Achilles, and in seeing the parts of him that the stories he’s heard so often didn’t tell him about. Miller’s story traces their growing friendship and eventual romance through exile, angry goddesses and war, and the singular focus on their relationship through everything is the melody I can’t get out of my head. I wanted so badly for them to be happy.

The way she writes characters and relationships is to be commended. The old adage “show, don’t tell” is clearly something that Miller has mastered, and the results are something beautiful. The way she conveys feeling and especially the main characters’ relationship, without ever specifically naming them, makes the story feel visceral and personal, like it comes from within instead of from the book front of you. I loved Achilles and Patroclus like they were alive, and I hated Thetis and Agamemnon as if they had personally wronged me. There’s something alive and tangible about every character, every place, every wound, and every heartbreak.

Madeline Miller does something spectacular in The Song of Achilles, which is to honor the original story while also adding layers and layers of meaning and emotion. Miller is exceptional at creatively filling in the blanks with pieces of story that feel like they were always meant to be there. Her writing is elegant and simple, calling back to a way of writing that almost sounds like a song or a fairytale. Her words a new light on an old story, making it seem fresh and heartbreaking anew.

“We were like gods, at the dawning of the world, and our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.”


The Bride Test

“You can kiss me,” she said, her voice half whisper, half husky rasp. “Anytime you want, you can kiss me.”

Damn it, Helen Hoang. This was so good. Reading this stole a perfectly good day from me! I mean it was worth it, but I couldn’t put this book down.

The Bride Test, like its predecessor (not prequel) The Kiss Quotient, is probably one of my favorite books that I’ve read this year.

Hoang’s second novel follows Vietnam-native Esme Tran on a journey across the world to meet Khai Diep, who she may very well decide to marry, if all goes well.

Khai has no interest in marriage though, whatsoever. He is reserved, exacting, and convinced he can never actually love someone else. Khai feels that his autism means that his heart is cold and made of stone, and incapable of love or grief or a number of other emotions. However, his family knows otherwise. His mother, in fact, is all the way in Vietnam looking for a bride for him, convinced that her son can be happy too.

Esme Tran, a mixed-race Vietnam native, works cleaning rooms at a hotel and lives her life to support her family and her young daughter, Jade. On an auspicious day at work, she meets a woman with an intriguing proposal: Come to America, meet her son and potential husband, and see if love blooms. Wondering if this could be the opportunity that she, her daughter, and her family need, Esme can’t turn down the offer.

Meeting Khai, let alone getting inside that quiet exterior, is more work than she expected it to be, but there’s something about him that makes her want to know him more deeply. And there’s something about her that might just make Khai finally realize that he can love in his own way, and that he can love with all of his heart.

The Bride Test was an absolute delight to read. 

The story is charming, relatable, romantic, and the perfect amount of sexy. From beginning to end, the characters draw you toward them like a moth, and the pacing sets a smooth, easy rhythm that I couldn’t break out of.

A few of our favorites, from The Kiss Quotient, make an appearance (Stella and Michael are getting married!!), but mostly we are treated to an introduction to the other side of the family we were only given a glimpse into before. The characters that make up Khai and Esme’s families are every bit as special, wonderful, and real as I expected them to be, coming from Hoang. Each character, even side characters, sounded and felt like a whole being, and by the end of the book I was heartbroken to part with any of them.

I also love to see a story that encompasses so many voices that we don’t hear often enough, from the immigrant and neurodivergent communities in particular. Hoang’s personal experience gives her an innate and spectacular talent of letting her readers peek inside the mind of someone who’s different from themselves, and this book was no exception. Understanding Khai was Esme’s goal in this book, but it also becomes the reader’s reward; every piece of information we glean from him, every moment inside his thoughts and feelings, is precious and paints a new world for her readers. For Khai and Esme too, as they fumble and trip over themselves to know one another. 

I personally love how Hoang can take a character who lives in their own world and introduce them to a new one, while never compromising who they are. Her books make me want to be more honest and accepting of myself, look for the good in people and, yes, have some steamy moments too!

This sweet strangers-to-love tale will take you through a spectrum of emotions throughout its rollercoaster of a ride, and will leave you incredibly satisfied at the end. Hoang delivers exactly what she promises in The Bride Test, a beautiful and romantic story about love, the importance of family, and the value of each of our unique perspectives.

“Everyone deserves to love and to be loved back. Everyone.