There is a lot of buzz around the release of The Kiss Quotient and in my opinion, it’s well deserved. I was so excited to have the opportunity to read an early copy of this very much-anticipated debut novel by Helen Hoang. I flew through the first read and then picked it up again a few weeks later to read slower and absorb it. I struggle with reviews for books I love. I worry about saying too much, so I over-edit and realize I’m not conveying what I wanted to say at all! As its release date neared, I picked it up again this past weekend. Believe the hype; this book is that good! Ms. Hoang gives us a truly unique and I believe, truthful perspective of young woman with Asperger’s Syndrome who is falling in love for the first time.
Stella Lane is an extremely intelligent young woman who works as an econometrician (yes I had to google it)-a job she is very good at. She’s ruled by her daily routines and the smallest kink in that routine can cause her to experience high anxiety. She’s quirky and can come off as socially awkward as she doesn’t always filter the thoughts that her brain processes in the moment. At the same time, she does notice when she’s made a faux paux and is quick to question it, and apologize.
Stella has dated and she is not a virgin, but sex has never been a good experience. She is hypersensitive, so things most people take for granted–eye contact, simple conversation, and touch, all require extreme effort on Stella’s part. She’s aware that the issues are mostly hers, but she hasn’t exactly chosen the best partners either. When a coworker makes an off-handed remark to her about practice makes perfect, Stella wonders if it could be that simple. Did she just need practice? And how exactly would one go about getting said practice? It doesn’t take long for Stella’s very analytical mind to decide that what she needs is a professional.
Enter Michael Phan. Michael works part-time as a high-end escort but this is not something he enjoys at all, it is simply a means to an end. While he might be good at it, his reasons for working as an escort were all about the money he made so he could take care of his family. As the eldest son, he takes the responsibility seriously-and will do whatever it takes.
Stella and Michael’s first meeting is not at all what Michael expected and sets the tone for what would become Stella’s sex/relationship lessons. Stella isn’t like his usual clients and her genuine kindness and sincere interest in him take him by surprise. When the first two sessions don’t go very well, Stella lays out a new proposition to him-she wants Michael to teach her how to be in a relationship. Michael isn’t keen on accepting, but Stella has already gotten under his skin and the thought that Stella may attempt to find another escort doesn’t sit well with him at all. So he agrees.
I loved Stella. She is awkward and quirky, but even when something is uncomfortable she pushes herself and makes the effort. Her determination and single-mindedness are both good and bad at times. Michael is patient and understanding and this is everything Stella needs to allow her to finally relax, let her guard down, and to experience want and desire for the first time. I loved that the author doesn’t make everything about the fact that Stella has Aspergers. Not that the reader is unaware-Stella’s actions or reactions are always there-but they are a way to make her character feel more authentic.
I loved Michael as well. His character is so complex as he struggles with everything he begins to feel for Stella and dealing with his life and his responsibilities to his family. He has a low opinion of himself and feels that he isn’t good enough for Stella because of the choices he’s had to make. He worries that he’s not any better than his father, who is the worst kind of scoundrel-a man who lied and cheated for years, leaving Michael’s family with a mountain of debt. Even as he is falling for Stella, he doesn’t feel that he deserves her and can’t possibly be enough for her. But in every instance, he is exactly what and who Stella needs. Michael is the perfect kind of tortured hero, blissfully unaware of exactly how wonderful he really is.
In her debut novel, Hoang takes the theme of a pretend relationship to a whole new level. She effortlessly weaves a story of two people destined to be together, though the obstacles in their way seem insurmountable. Ms. Hoang gives us a glimpse into the mind of a person on the autism spectrum and the things they may struggle with daily, that most of us take for granted. At the same time, Stella is every woman. She has the same wants and needs as anyone, and worries about the same things where men are concerned. This is a book that’s hard to put down. You’ll feel every emotion as you step into Stella’s shoes and go through this experience with her and Michael. You’ll laugh and cry and experience all the feels.