SAPAHM Post: Amara Royce Discusses Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient
Hi friends, so it’s a guest review, I suppose is the best way to describe it. I’m thrilled that Amara Royce contributed this post, and as you might know, Hoang’s next book The Bride Test is now out! (Amara sent me this post on the 4th.)
A heartwarming and refreshing debut novel that proves one thing: there’s not enough data in the world to predict what will make your heart tick.
Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases—a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.
It doesn’t help that Stella has Asperger’s and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice—with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can’t afford to turn down Stella’s offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan—from foreplay to more-than-missionary position…
Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but crave all of the other things he’s making her feel. Their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic…
I generally don’t write reviews of the books I read, not even on Amazon or Goodreads. So I’m not going to try to be clever, and I can’t guarantee I will be entirely coherent. But I cannot help gushing about this book effusively! I can’t adequately express how much I adore this book—and its author, Helen Hoang, for writing it! I’m also squee-ing because her next book is due out for release on May 7th!!
Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient truly wrecked me in all the best ways. I loved the main characters and many of the supporting characters. I adored the depiction of the female main character Stella’s subjective autistic perspective, as well as the male main character Michael’s handling of the heroine without realizing she’s on the autism spectrum. I adored the depictions of Michael’s family life, especially his mother. I adored the integral issues of consent, and I want everyone to read this book! That’s what the tl;dr boils down to, but for more details, keep reading.
In my unconstrained giddiness about TKQ, I would happily just exclaim, “Autism Spectrum Disorder! Asian American main characters and families! Consent! Yes! Yes! Yes!”
I haven’t read many novels that center on a character on the autism spectrum. The only one that comes to my mind immediately is The Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which is decidedly not a romance. I know I’ve also read some historical romances with characters who I think would, in today’s world, be diagnosed on the spectrum, but I can’t recall details at the moment. What stood out for me in TKQ was how it conveys Stella’s POV and demonstrates the ways she processes her experiences and her own behavior. On the high functioning “side” of ASD, she has a great job, her own apartment, and a nice car—all markers our society conventionally identifies as “successful.” She has sensory issues, gets overstimulated easily, doesn’t always “read” people’s words and expressions well, and doesn’t like being touched. Self-aware, she works so hard and methodically to “fix” her errors in all things and to make sure she’s doing/saying things that other people will perceive as appropriate.
The novel opens with Stella’s mother pressuring her about grandchildren, which means Stella needs to do more dating, which she dreads. She assesses her relationship deficiencies and the few intimate encounters she has had…and she concludes that the logical solution is to hire a male escort so she can learn how to be a better sexual partner.
That’s how she meets Michael…a male escort she selects after careful research. His reasons for working as a male escort (only on Fridays!) are important, and his experiences and approach make him perhaps the perfect person to help her. But it’s not that simple! They both feel different with each other than they have with any of their other intimate partners, and it’s endearing how attentive they are to each other, as their somewhat rocky “practice relationship” takes shape and evolves.
I unabashedly love how Michael redefines her prior sexual experiences and helps her reframe what she when needs. Instead of strict lesson plans (yes, she writes lesson plans for their sessions—including performance reviews!), he helps her to center her own desires and enjoyment. Her prior experiences have been crappy. She gave consent, but ultimately shut down during the acts because of the physical, sensory, and emotional discomfort…and those partners basically ignored her discomfort, finished quickly and left, blaming her frigidity for the unsatisfactory experiences. When Michael learns about these prior experiences, he’s infuriated and ultimately recommits to helping her learn to enjoy sex. Fortunately, he’s very knowledgeable in this area. Obstacles and missteps abound as their “practice relationship” proceeds, and Michael has some of his own personal challenges to overcome. Still, their fundamental care for each other remains constant…and that earnest care just slays me again and again.
And Michael’s family—his mother, grandmother, and sisters—are yet another part of the novel that enthralled me. The descriptions of his family’s Vietnamese cooking felt like a comforting hug. The closeness of his family, his utter devotion to his mother, and his desperate efforts to cover her medical expenses after his absent and reprehensible father abandoned their family and took their savings…it all hit me directly in my heart. I hope to see more of them all in the future!
Basically, TKQ hit all the right notes for me, as if it was written directly for me! Stella’s characteristics, tendencies, reactions all have stuck with me since I finished the book, in part because I see some of those elements in myself (which is a whole other topic for another day). I love TKQ, and I want everyone to love it with me!
(If you don’t, that’s okay too. Different strokes! But I think we need to read more characters like Stella and Michael and more happy endings for people like them!)