Friday, January 18, 2019

Review: The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

Book Cover: The background is teal with faint, white equations.  In the top right third, a cartoon couple is engaged in a kiss (she is wearing a pink shirt and a black skirt, and he is wearing a white shirt and blue pants). They are standing on a blue division symbol. The title is in yellow cursive with the division symbol side running between the words "The" and "Kiss". The author's name is under the title in white capital letters.

Notes about reviewer limitations:  

1.  I'm not autistic.
2.  I'm picky with romantic reads.

Stella Lane is autistic, brilliant at econometrics, and lousy at love.  Due to pressure from her overbearing mother (and "relationship advice" from a sleazy co-worker), Stella decides to hire an escort to teach her proper sexual techniques.  Enter Michael, the sweet escort who desperately needs money.
First, if you're looking for a chaste romance, this isn't it.  There is sex.  Descriptive sex.  Naughty words in the descriptive sex.  There is more than one scene of naughty, descriptive sex.  It's vanilla sex, but there is still a fair amount.

The sex scenes were done fairly well.  Stella locks up and starts to cry (in the beginning) during intimacy, and Michael is patient with her.  He slowly works through her barriers, and is always considerate/gauging her responses.  It felt like fully-informed consent.

Rape trigger warning for this paragraph:  Unfortunately, Stella's response to sex leads to a scene I'd consider date rape early in the book.  Anyone who goes through with intercourse when someone is lying rigid with tears rolling down their face is scum.  (I'm not talking about BDSM, where intention and emotion can differ from non-kink.)  It isn't that Stella is bad at sex, but that the men she's with don't care enough about her to give her what she needs.
The main protagonists were solid solo characters.  I loved the way Stella's mind works—it felt like an authentic portrayal of an autistic woman to me (the author is autistic), and it was nice seeing her universe and confidence expand.  Michael (who is half-Vietnamese) has depth to him:  He loves his family, has geeky tastes and interesting hobbies, harbors a secret dream, and possesses a storied past.  I found our male protagonist had a bit too much angst for my liking (maybe I just don't like daddy issues).

The secondary characters ranged in quality.  Some characters were only there as plot devices or emotional vehicles.  One of the side characters the book spends the most time on (the sleazy co-worker) felt like a legitimate sexual predator.  I had a pretty unfavorable view of Stella's family, but I liked Michael's well enough (outside of the father we never see).
The romance portion of the book didn't feel quite as developed as the sexual one.  They still have cute moments together (there was a sweet scene at an ice cream parlor), but most of them didn't seem to last long.  It was enough for me to see the connection and want them to succeed.

They are interested in each other's lives and goals, though I thought Stella tried harder for Michael than he did for her, especially in regards to their families.  Stella, though, doesn't respect Michael's boundaries as well as he does hers.  No relationship is perfect.

When the couple hit their rough patch in the book, it's because they both think the other can't possibly love them for who they are.  This, of course, is a type of misunderstanding trope... something I despise.  For two people who are supposedly in love, a five-minute conversation shouldn't be impossible.  But, plot, I guess.
If you are looking for spice with a touch of sweetness and a good portrayal of an autistic woman, I recommend this book.

If you are looking for something with more romantic depth, this probably isn't the read for you.

I found it a worthwhile read.
Author biography:  Helen Hoang is that shy person who never talks. Until she does. And the worst things fly out of her mouth. She read her first romance novel in eighth grade and has been addicted ever since. In 2016, she was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in line with what was previously known as Asperger’s Syndrome. Her journey inspired The Kiss Quotient. She currently lives in San Diego, California with her husband, two kids, and pet fish. 

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