Book Review: The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
“This crusade to fix herself was ending right now. She wasn’t broken. She saw and interacted with the world in a different way, but that was her. She could change her actions, change her words, change her appearance, but she couldn’t change the root of herself. At her core, she would always be autistic. People called it a disorder, but it didn’t feel like one. To her, it was simply the way she was.”
The Kiss Quotient has been getting a ton of buzz; The New York Times did a piece on Helen Hoang just yesterday. This is Hoang’s debut novel, and it already seems to be listed as one of the best books of the year. I've been looking forward to it for a few months, and it was one of my Summer TBR titles. The Kiss Quotient is kind of like a reverse Pretty Woman story. Stella Lane is an econometrician with Asperger’s. Her parents are pressuring her to start dating because they would like grandchildren, but so far, all of her dating and sexual experiences have pretty much paralyzed her. So she decides to hire a male escort to help her master sex, so she can start dating for real. She requests Michael, a Vietnamese-Swedish guy who only escorts on Friday so he can pay his mother’s medical bills. When Michael meets Stella, he is understandably thrown by Stella. She is not one of his typical customers and her behavior seems a little off. After their dinner, they go to Stella’s hotel room, and Michael is already attracted to her, which does not happen any more to him. But before things can go too far, Stella freaks out, and her body freezes. So they end up spending the night together cuddling. The next morning, Stella proposes that for the next three Fridays, Michael can teach Stella everything about sex so she will be ready to start a relationship. But what neither of them are prepared for is when they fall for each other.
As the sessions continue, Stella realizes the main issue for her is that she does not know how to be in a real relationship, so the arrangement turns into Michael being Stella’s pretend boyfriend for the next month. If Michael agrees, Stella will pay him $50,000 for the month. Michael knows that money would solve a lot of problems for his family and he could stop escorting, but he also enjoys spending time with Stella and doesn’t want to be like his father and take advantage of people. The new arrangement is a good setup, but still leaves a lot of gray area when it comes to how they actually feel about the other. Michael cannot believe he falls for a client, and he still believes Stella is just doing this to get ready for a real relationship. Stella is ready to seduce Michael for real, but she cannot figure out how to actually tell him how she feels. Before she can, he makes comments that remind her that she is paying him to do this. As I read, I wanted to shake these two to just communicate already! But at the same time, I loved the weird no-man's-land they found themselves in. It made for a delightful ending.
I loved Michael’s relationship with his family. He loves his family so much, but at the same time, they annoy the hell out of him, like most families do. He has five sisters, but he takes it upon himself to help his mom with her illness. Everyone else chips in and helps out, but Michael feels like he has to be the only one to take care of the bills and his mom. A lot of Michael’s issues revolve around his dad and his poor choices. And the only reason Michael begins escorting is because his dad swindled all of the family’s life savings and now they have no money to pay for his mom’s medical bills. I also enjoyed seeing Michael’s cousins Quan and Khai. (Khai is also autistic, and he will be the hero in Hoang’s next novel, The Bride Test! Which sadly doesn't come out until 2019...) Some of my favorite scenes were Stella interacting with Michael’s family. The first dinner was disastrous, but Stella recognizes enough about herself that she goes to apologize afterwards. I think it means so much to both Stella and Michael that she can get over her normal aversion to meeting new people and make an effort to spend time with the most important people in Michael’s life.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to read the Author’s Note in The Kiss Quotient. Helen Hoang talks about how her daughter’s preschool teacher thought she was on the autism spectrum, but everyone else Hoang talked to thought her daughter was just a normal, active child. However, when Hoang was researching autism, she discovered that she herself was on the autism spectrum, and was diagnosed with what is formerly known as Asperger’s Syndrome. Discovering her own diagnosis not only helped her see herself, but also helped shape the character of Stella. A lot of Stella is based on Hoang, like her love for math, her tapping fingers when nervous, and her dislike of loud music and parties. Hoang also mentions that most of what we know about autism is either for children or men; most women are diagnosed later in life because women are more likely to hide their autistic traits and mask their awkwardness in order to blend in during social situations. I loved reading about an autistic heroine and am grateful for writers who are going out of her way to write diverse characters.
I really enjoyed The Kiss Quotient. I adored the relationship between Stella and Michael, and absolutely squealed with delight every time they were together. If you are looking for a fun, sweet love story, I cannot recommend The Kiss Quotient enough. I give it 4 stars.
*This is such a darling romance novel, but be forewarned, the sex scenes are graphic, so if that is not your thing, maybe skip The Kiss Quotient.*
What other diverse romance novels do you recommend?