Welcome to my review of The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang.
This is the first romance novel I’ve ever read, outside of Jane Austen books. Honestly, I wasn’t excited about reading it. I’ve always had a bit of an attitude about romance novels: Who cares about two twenty-first century people trying to decide if they like each other? Not me.
That’s my attitude, and I apologize to all the romance fans out there begging to differ right now. You will be happy to hear that Helen Hoang’s book gave me what my mother would call an “attitude adjustment.” I’m not saying that I’m a diehard romance fan now, but this book showed me the possibilities that exist within this genre.
Our leading lady in The Kiss Quotient, Stella, is a thirty-year-old woman with Asperger’s who struggles in the romance department. Even though she has a great job as a mathematician, Stella feels like a failure because she has never been able to sustain a relationship beyond a few days or weeks. Stella realizes that maybe romantic relationships require the same type of practice as other social skills. After this revelation she decides to hire an escort to help her practice being intimate with a man.
Stella’s “problem” as she sees it, is that she tends to freeze up and have a panic attack in the middle of intimate moments. This is because her Asperger’s makes it very difficult for her to be touched. At the beginning of the book, we see that even hugging her parents is a challenge for her. She has had a few unenjoyable sexual encounters with men who forced themselves on her even though she was clearly not OK. In sadly true to life fashion, Stella concludes that all of this was her fault because she isn’t good at sex. Luckily for her, she ends up hiring Michael as her escort/teacher.
Michael is only working as an escort on Friday nights to help pay for his mother’s medical bills. He keeps his escorting secret from his family, and he keeps his mother’s bills secret from Stella. Michael is an All-Around Good Guy ™ . He sees that Stella has some struggles, and he is extremely sensitive to her needs. Micheal probably has the best understanding of consent ever. Even in the midst of hot sex scenes, he puts on the breaks the second he notices that Stella is uncomfortable. Oh ya, and in addition to being a great guy, Michael is also a grade-A hotty, with an eight pack.
Stella, understandably, falls for Michael and he falls for her too. This is a problem because they are supposed to be in a business relationship, not a real one. As Stella and Michael are forced into more “real relationship” scenarios, the question becomes whether they will still like each other when they find out the real story of each other’s lives. The most frustrating ( in a good way) part for the reader is wondering whether they will ever confess their feelings.
Honestly, this book required more suspension of disbelief than any fantasy book I’ve ever read. But it was so well written that it ended up being believable and entertaining. The author has Asperger’s, so her portrayal of the condition is based on personal experience. Stella’s struggles and triumphs were very well written, and I found myself sympathizing with her frustrations.
Stella is smart and funny, and there was something very endearing about watching Micheal fall in love with her. His interaction with her was every woman’s fantasy. Hoang did a great job of building tension of every kind between these characters. I was never bored reading this book, and it even kept me up past my bedtime. That’s not what I expected from a romance novel.
I read The Kiss Quotient to learn about writing romance and it ended up being a great example of romance done right. Many books I’ve read have included romantic sub-plotlines, but I often find them contrived and uninteresting. There were two things that I think made Stella and Micheal’s story effective: pacing, and the parallel character arcs that were affected by their romance.
Hoang gave their relationship time to develop. I realize that not every book can give the characters almost three hundred pages to work things out, but it is important not to rush things. Love at first sight sounds great, but it’s not something most people can take seriously in a story. Even if attraction happens immediately, the deeper aspects of a relationship take time.
Stella and Micheal both started out with some serious insecurities and Hoang showed how their relationship helped them to overcome these. She made it very clear why the relationship mattered to the characters. Sometimes in sup-plot romances, this meaning is missing and the relationship seems to just be there without impacting the plot or the characters in an interesting way.
I think this is an important take away for all of us aspiring writers. If you want to create a romance that readers will root for, give it a purpose for existing. Not every story has to have a romance, sometimes other types of relationships can work better for developing the characters.
I’ve never written romance into my stories, but reading The Kiss Quotient showed me that when done well, it can be really fun to read.
If you’ve read The Kiss Quotient, please let me know what you thought of it. Also, feel free to recommend any romance books you think I should read.