Book Review: The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

Status: Finished Reading (19 July 2018)

Edition: Amazon Kindle

Rating: ★★★★☆

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Image Source: Goodreads

The Kiss Quotient is a romance novel about a young woman – Stella Lane – with Asperger’s who has a hard time managing personal relationships, and what happens when she decides to hire an escort – Michael Phan – to help her “practice” intimacy. Equal parts funny and emotional, this book delivered on what it promised: a cute yet moving story between two people who didn’t think they could possibly execute a healthy and functional relationship.

I am a sucker for the fake-dating + sex tutoring trope. I find it immensely adorable when two people who are trying very hard to act like they’re in love end up, ultimately, having to try very hard to act like they’re not in love.

A lot of the scenes, dialogues that come with such a trope have a chance of being cliche – but I believe there’s no such thing as a cliche or an overused trope in literature. I think diverse, own-voices stories are in desperate need to be given the same pampering and attention that these tropes received when they were written about white cis-het abled characters, and diverse characters deserve that too. Moreover, I genuinely don’t think cliches are a bad thing – as long as they’re written refreshingly, there’s no danger of a story getting boring.

Hoang’s book is a perfect example of this. Although the story feels fairly basic in its synopsis, nothing about its execution is basic. This book has been one of my quickest reads in the past few months which is a major thumbs up – I practically inhaled it because I was so engrossed in the story.

For one, Stella is an extremely, extremely relatable character. While I have never been diagnosed with anything on the autism spectrum myself, some of the symptoms my mental health exhibit are common with those that Stella exhibits as well. To read about a main character who often thinks and functions the way I do – and it’s not an insult or quirk but a genuine part of who she is – was so unbelievably heartwarming. While I felt deeply for her in her times of distress, I also understood. As a result, every hurdle she overcame felt almost like some kind of personal achievement. I congratulate Hoang on writing her character because own-voices books are so important.

I also genuinely loved Michael’s character. He’s so funny and charismatic, and while he exhibits a fairly dominant personality he wasn’t overbearing in any way. He was patient and understanding, all while dealing with a lot of his personal demons. I also like how into fashion he is – it’s a rare delight to find that in media without being clouded with stereotypes. I think the character growth exhibited by both characters was very subtly written. The way they both handled their mistakes and grew for them felt extremely organic.

Two of the scenes that really stood out to me were the first meeting Stella had with Michael’s family, and the reverse-ritual she does later on in the book when she’s having a mental breakdown. Without spoiling anything, I just want to say that both those scenes meant a lot to me.

The first because I come from an Asian family myself – and we have a tendency to get very loud and chaotic. While being in such a community-based and well-rounded environment is a good thing, it can be also exhausting and disorienting for those of us who are extremely sensitive to outside stimuli. Watching Stella try to handle that, the mishaps and mistakes, and then the gentle compromise on both sides – it all really struck a chord with me.

The second scene stuck with me because there was something so painfully raw about it. I am a stickler for routine myself – down to the order of my morning, shower, meal, night rituals. Watching Stella come undone and then piece it all together was so difficult to watch, yet written completely realistically. I felt grated the same way she did. I don’t think a review could do justice to how I felt when I read it but I commend Hoang on how it was executed because it was powerful while seeming completely natural (as opposed to a lot of scenes in other books/movies with mental illness that are often overdone for shock-value).

I think the only thing that stopped me from giving this book a full 5/5 rating was the entire subplot with her colleague. While it is definitely a fun wrench to throw in a second-lead and I occasionally enjoy such dynamics, the alpha-douche trope was a tad uncomfortable for me to read. I wouldn’t necessarily say it shouldn’t have been written in – perhaps I was not in the correct state of mind personally to be reading it – but in this particular instance, I didn’t feel it was needed.

I wouldn’t let that cloud my judgement, though. This is still a very good read. I will hand it to Hoang for writing such relatable characters that I came to truly like, and a relationship that did not feel forced or clunky at any instance – even the sex scenes and dirty talk (which can sometimes border on cringey when written badly) was actually written well. The tension and chemistry between Stella and Michael is palpable right from their first meeting, and that makes me so happy because that’s not the easiest result to achieve with writing.

If you’re the type of reader to enjoy a quick but thoroughly enjoyable romance book, then this is definitely the book for you!

 

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