What is it about fictional faked or arranged relationships that’s so darn charming? Is it the forbidden-ness of the feelings that inevitably pop up? The unbearable sexiness of the fake-but-not-fake kisses–and more? Whatever the root of that charm is, The Kiss Quotient has it in spades. Stella is autistic and a gifted econometrist. She’s not really interested in dating and sex, but decides she might like those things more if she were better at them–so she hires tortured, smoking hot professional escort Michael to teach her. They start falling for each other during their sexy “lessons,” but Stella’s fear of not being enough and Michael’s tragic past threaten to keep them apart.
The Kiss Quotient is fun, funny, adorable, and most importantly, extremely scorchingly sexy. Like…maybe don’t read it in public levels of sexy. It’s a little rough in places–in particular, I think its happily-ever-after wraps up way too fast–but its contagious charm and the awesome chemistry between the two leads more than make up for the few flaws. This is a fantastic romance.
You can read my full review below.
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
- publisher: Berkley (an imprint of Penguin Random House)
- publication date: June 5, 2018
- length: 336 pages
Was Philip right? Did she dislike sex because she was bad at it? Would practice really make perfect? What a beguiling concept. Maybe sex was just another interpersonal thing she needed to exert extra efforts on–like casual conversation, eye contact, and etiquette.
But how exactly did you practice sex?
–from The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
If you’re blunt, anxious, shy, particular, and/or easily overwhelmed–whether or not you have an autism diagnosis–you’re going to find a lot to love in The Kiss Quotient’s protagonist, Stella Lane.
Stella is a competent, happy 30-something whose life is going swimmingly. She doesn’t need to be fixed and she definitely doesn’t need pity. She’s autistic and thriving, and very good at dealing with the challenges of living in a mostly-allistic world.
There’s just one thing missing: Stella has never really enjoyed dating, kissing, or sex, and she wonders if there’s some way to fix that. Maybe she just needs practice. Luckily, she has plenty of money to hire a male escort to teach her.
That escort is Michael, a secretive, movie-star-levels-of-hot Vietnamese-Swedish guy who practices kendo and dreams of starting his own fashion line. He hates escorting. It’s nothing but a way to turn the good looks he hates into a way to pay for his mother’s expensive medical care.
Until he meets Stella. That’s when Michael starts to actually enjoy sex. He agrees to keep seeing Stella until she’s an expert at sex and relationships. Then they’ll each move on, no strings attached…
Except that’s not how it works out! Of course that’s not how it works out. They develop feeeeeeelings! (And have amazing sex along the way.)
What I loved the most about The Kiss Quotient was its sexiness. It would have been very easy for a romance with an autistic protagonist to be overly chaste and sweet. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with chaste and sweet–it’s just that almost all pop culture about autistic people tends to treat them as childlike and childish, when that’s very much not the case for many autistic adults. I was glad it broke out of that box.
Instead, The Kiss Quotient uses Stella’s particular way of looking at the world to add sexy fuel to the fire. She’s hypersensitive to Michael’s scent, skin-on-skin sensations, and to the taste of mint chocolate chip ice cream shared through a kiss. Loud music at a club stresses her out, but she loves the piano, so she and Michael bond over a Heart and Soul duet. Stella is very particular about comfortable clothes, so Michael introduces her to yoga pants that make her butt look good, and he even sews her a soft new evening dress.
Each of those sensual and tender moments ratchets up the stakes–and the heat. Every single sex scene in The Kiss Quotient easily ranks as one of the best I’ve ever read. Easily. I won’t go into NSFW detail, but if you like steamy romance, you’ll love this.
I’m not autistic, but I do have OCD, and the way it manifests for me means I have a few of the classic characteristics of autism: hypersensitivity, social anxiety, and obsessive thinking in particular. Stella’s way of looking at the world was similar to mine in a way I hardly ever get to read about, and it made me feel seen and cherished as a romance reader.
In addition to Stella’s autism, Michael’s Vietnamese family is also a welcome addition to the romance formula. Michael feels a mixture of protectiveness and pride towards his family–he’s in a similar situation to Carlos in The Proposal to Jasmine Guillory–and like Carlos, he needs to learn to trust that they can take care of themselves, just like he needs to learn to trust his own feelings towards Stella.
The Vietnamese cultural elements of the novel don’t just feel like window-dressing. It’s not just about food, or clothes, or other details that are easy to “research” on Wikipedia. The Kiss Quotient uses Michael’s Vietnamese-ness more to talk about what it means to be part of a big immigrant family, and the benefits and pressures that can come with that. It forwards Michael’s character development in a fascinating way.
In this review so far I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the characters and not a whole lot talking about the writing, and I think that’s because Helen Hoang’s writing style in The Kiss Quotient is very basic. She captures sensory details eloquently, but the dialogue isn’t really anything special. The internal monologues are a little clunky, and the way the novel wraps up happens so quickly and matter-of-factly that I felt a tiny bit cheated. I wanted to roll around in the happily-ever-after, not move briskly on to the brief epilogue.
But those are truly minor quibbles in comparison to all the great stuff Hoang accomplishes here. I will absolutely be reading whatever she does next. (Her next novel, The Bride Test, is linked to The Kiss Quotient through a supporting character, and I can’t wait to read it.)
If you’re looking for a romance that runs deep emotionally but is also fun, flirty, and sexy on the surface, it would be hard to do better than The Kiss Quotient. This book rocked. ★★★★☆
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I purchased my own copy of The Kiss Quotient and was in no way compensated for this review.