It was Amazon that recommended The Kiss Quotient (2018) by Helen Hoang to me. I’m a sucker for romance novels, but then I saw Roxanne Gay’s blurb: “This is such a fun read and its also quite original and sexy and sensitive.” I was sold. The long wait list at the library also showed how popular it was, so I read it almost as soon as it became available.
In many ways, The Kiss Quotient is a normal romance novel. The plot and story are all about the two main characters getting over their fears and inhibitions and finding true love at last. What makes this novel stand out (besides the fact that the main characters are Asian, which I think is still notable despite Crazy Rich Asians) is that Stella is high-functioning autistic and Michael is a prostitute. You might wonder how Hoang can make this story relatable, but she really does. This story was fun, sweet, interesting, and original. It’s not perfect, but I enjoyed it and would recommend it to others.
Stella Lane is thirty years old and under pressure from her demanding mother for grandchildren. The problem is that Stella has issues with intimacy stemming from her autism. She is very successful at her job as an econometrician, which fits her personality to a T, but interpersonal skills have always been much harder for her. The few times that she’s slept with men have proven disastrous. An offhand comment by a coworker has Stella thinking that–like with her other interpersonal skills–what she needs is more practice. And the perfect way to get practice is to hire a professional.
Enter, Michael Phan, a reluctant male prostitute with the requisite heart of gold. His patience and sexiness help a lot with getting past Stella’s defenses. She wants to learn more from him, and so they begin a “pretend dating” relationship for Stella to learn how to act in a relationship. Of course the two start to love each other, but Stella doesn’t want to push Michael for more than their deal and Michael has his own self-esteem problems.
I was surprised at how well Hoang was able to make a romance work between these characters and under these circumstances, but she really did. ***SPOILER*** For the most part, I rolled my eyes when the stalkerish ex-customer of Michael’s turns out to be Stella’s co-worker’s mother. That whole banquet didn’t really work for me. I was also a little uncomfortable with their PDA, some of it very close to his family, but the rest of the story makes up for those minor issues. ***END SPOILER***
Also, I realized that I know very little about autism. It turns out that the author discovered as an adult that she was high-functioning autistic, and it explained a lot for her. She said autism varies a lot, but that Stella was so easy to write because Stella reacted as she would have. As I was reading, I could so relate to Stella that I started wondering about myself. Just like Stella, I don’t like loud music, crowds, strong smells, or interacting with strangers. But I don’t fit in other ways, so I think I’m just your typical introvert.
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