For a while now, I’ve been thinking I should really seek out an #OwnVoices alternative to The Rosie Project. I settled on The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang, a book about a woman who lives with an autism spectrum disorder written by (dramatic pause) a woman who lives with an autism spectrum disorder. It was first published back in 2018, and it made quite a splash – mostly for the no-holds-barred steamy scenes and the awesome diverse cast of characters…
Meet Stella: our protagonist, a successful woman who loves her work as an econometrician and is generally happy with her life. Cue inciting incident: her parents tell her they want grandchildren, ASAP, and they think it would be good for her to start dating – specifically, dating Philip, the office lech.
Stella isn’t particularly fussed on men and dating. Her previous experiences have been decidedly lackluster. But, she figures she lacks practice, and what’s the most rational way to go about improving her skills (social and… otherwise)? Hire an escort, of course! She hires Michael, a gorgeous escort she finds online, to teach her how to date and fuck with the best of them.
Michael isn’t the kind of two-dimensional manic pixie dream boy we’ve become all-too-accustomed too. He has A PAST (which is alluded to, lots, before it finally comes out). But aside from that, he also has interests (martial arts), a day job (at his mother’s dry-cleaner), and a family he loves more than anything.
The Kiss Quotient is effectively a gender-bending Pretty Woman, and it makes for a surprisingly sweet and romantic story – the perfect blend of endearing and sexy, a combination that’s difficult to get right. I think Hoang nailed the balance between romance (i.e., sexy times) and plot, which made it all the more enjoyable to read. It’s a perfect step up from your penny Harlequins about princes and pirates, without the ick factor of a Fifty Shades.
Stella is hypersensitive, to smells and touch and sound, which means Hoang’s writing is really rich in descriptive detail that goes beyond the visual. From the texture of Michael’s jacket to the sound of a nightclub, Hoang paints a really vivid portrait for the reader. And, I must say, this dedication to description extends to the sexy fun times Michael and Stella have together. The door is WIDE OPEN, folks. Hoang isn’t here to fuck around. The Kiss Quotient is steamy as heck.
The dangling mystery of Michael’s past – only revealed at the climax – is actually kind of annoying, though. Hoang drops constant hints, never letting us forget for one second that this dreamboat escort has a “dark side” or whatever. The upside is at least Stella’s autism wasn’t the main/only obstacle keeping them from being together. The dynamics and balance of the romance are really pleasing, in that both the parties to it have their own baggage and their own power. Neither is faultless, and neither is helpless. Their affection for each other feels genuine and intimate, despite the commercial aspect.
Stella is particularly relatable – even for readers who don’t live with/aren’t familiar with autism – for her simple but powerful desire to be loved. That’s something we’ve surely all experienced, at one time or another. Her autism is not the only facet of her personality, nor is it the only interesting thing about her; she ever feels like a token or a stereotype.
It seems a shame, then, that Hoang has used a few problematic sex worker tropes with Michael’s character. The sex-worker-with-a-heart-of-gold thing is tired and yucky. I’m also not sure how I feel about the implied idea that autism-related intimacy issues can be magically cured by a sex god (but then again, I’m neurotypical, so it’s probably not for me to say whether that’s okay or not).
All told, I’d say The Kiss Quotient isn’t perfect, but its flaws are forgivable for the fact that it’s a step up from the alternatives and it’s real fun to read. It’s perfect for fans of The Wedding Date (the Debra Messing movie, not the Jasmine Guillory book, though that recommendation would probably hold up, too). It’s a solid summer read if you’re looking for something sexy to take to the beach when the warmer weather returns.
My favourite Amazon reviews of The Kiss Quotient:
- “Cute but wasn’t what I expected. Easy read but also very sexually graphic and reminded me how very single I am.” – Kindle Customer
- “Sex: multiple scenes, including oral
Language: 68 F words, 20 Lord’s name in vain, 34 S words
Violence: forced kisses, black eye
Do I need to read books before this one: no
Would I read more of the series: YES” – dncall
- “Half of the book is used to describe how the couple has sex in details.” – wilson