The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang. 2018. Jove Books.
I don’t ever want to read another book that’s not about, or written by, autistic people ever again.
Okay, this is extreme because I love to read, and let’s face it, most books are not about, or written by, autistic people. And that’s what made the experience of reading The Kiss Quotient so uniquely profound and, yeah, I’ll say it: pleasurable.
I mean. Scintillating, tongue-in-teeth, toes secretly curled as I curl up on the sofa, pleasurable. Though, that second part has to do less with the autism and more with the fact that this is a racy, romance paperback!
I’d like to say, I pretty much never read romance novels. I stick more to YA fantasy, dystopia, and the occasional sci-fi. If there’s no vampires, robots, or rebellious colonies staging a revolution at the end of the world, I usually don’t want it.
The Kiss Quotient is a little nerdy. The main character is an econometrician who’s favorite activity is crunching data- but aside from that, it’s pure contemporary romance.
Says so right on the cover.
So how did it come to be in my possession? A friend who’s heard me talk about how much I love books, representation, and being autistic, sent it to me. And who can say no to a gift like that?
Speaking of saying no, The Kiss Quotient does an excellent job of highlighting the non-negotiable nature of consent. In general, but also as it specifically relates to commonly autistic traits like disliking touch or unwanted physicality.
Okay, here’s the part where I will provide a bulleted list of pros and cons in an effort to stop jumping around from point to point and instead, give it to you straight. Which leads me to my first con:
This book is Extremely Straight. There is no queer representation whatsoever. Which is fine if that’s what you’re looking for, but honestly, for anything published after like 2014, I feel like at least one non-het person is a requirement.
There are no Black people. Again, maybe this is fine if you’re not looking specifically for Black people, but…
To Hoang’s credit, most of the non-Asian characters were only described using imagery like “curvaceous with a sandy bob” or “curvaceous and brunette,” and even the main female character was never explicitly given a race.
I assumed she was Asian, and even though I later got the point that she probably was white, I was happy with that assumption. I could’ve assumed she was Black if I wanted to, and I appreciate Hoang’s choice to make that happen.
Okay, now to the good stuff:
Everything else: period.
Okay, no, but seriously:
Plot-driven: The plot is good. I’m a writer, so trust me on this: the twists and turns will leave you reeling like you’re on a real roller-coaster, not just an emotional one.
There are a few plot-twists that, if you read a lot, you might expect, but they’re still satisfying. There’s also at least one major plot twist that, even if you read a lot, will throw you over the side of the roller-coaster. What I’m saying is, buckle up.
ASD Representation: Off-the-charts. There is actually more than one autistic person in this novel, and I for one was blown away by how much Stella (the main character)’s brain and body worked like my own!
You got your stimming, your low tolerance for loud or clashing noises and overpowering smells, your seams-and-tags-in-clothes dilemma, your routines, your hyper-focus and special interests, your social ineptitude, and probably most importantly, your almost-overbearing anxiety that comes with having to work so hard to read other people’s social signals in a pained and continuous attempt to not alienate them.
And, Hoang expertly manages to explore that in general socializing, but also overlay those obstacles on top of the dating/love/sex scene. What do you do if obsessive tendencies are a major part of your makeup, a characteristic of your diagnosis, but you’ve promised not to get obsessed with the escort you hired to teach you how to have sex so you can bag a man and deliver grand-babies to your overbearing, but well-intentioned mom?!
This is almost the central question of the novel.
If I hadn’t already recently realized I myself was autistic, reading this book would have done it for me. I have never been so seen as a person, as a lover, as someone who doesn’t like to be touched but also loves sex.
I found that as much as I wanted to race ahead and know what happened next, I often needed to stop just to process experiences in my own past that related to Stella’s experiences. It was emotional, but cathartic, and I am very very thankful for that opportunity.
Other Representation: Poor people vs rich people; the male main character, Michael, comes from a Vietnamese family, and we get to learn about that culture and have several recurring Vietnamese characters. The female main character, Stella, is an extremely intelligent single woman in her thirties who makes a lot of money working in a STEM field. Honestly, it’s all refreshing.
Love and Sex Stuff : Y’all, I already said I don’t usually read romance novels, but if they all manage to handle sex with all the passion, fire, tenderness, and tantalizing care that Helen Hoang specializes in, that’s about to change.
Like an expert lover (like the expert lover in the book!) she manages to pull you to the brink, but leave you wanting more, but give you just enough that you do actually come back for more because you know the pay off will be that good.
And, reader, it is. It really is.
Oh yeah, and the love is pure, too.
In Summary: [Light, Thematic spoilers ahead]
My favorite thing about this novel, heart-racing, heat-rising sex scenes aside, is that it is about romance between two people, but it is also deeply about learning to love yourself.
Towards the end of the novel, the love-interest, Michael, speaks with his mom. She says: “If you actually love her, then know the value of that love and make it a promise. That is the only thing she needs from you.”
“If you actually love her, then know the value of that love and make it a promise. That is the only thing she needs from you.”
Excellent advice in his case, but also something I hope to take away and apply to myself moving forward. Self-love isn’t about immediately loving everything about yourself, it’s about keeping the promise that you will value yourself no matter what. Even if that means giving up the person you love if it’s not what’s best for you. Even if it means getting back together if it is.
I give this book an 8.5/10. Literally cannot get wait to get started on its companion: The Bride Test.
Have you read Helen Hoang? Any recommendations for other ASD-representation books I should read and review? Please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you!
Hmm, this has me thinking about the book I have for multiple years (decades) occasionally played at writing and now put more frequent work in to after getting connected with a local creative writers group a couple years ago.
I was diagnosed autistic as an adult but began writing the sci-fi stories around 8th or 9th grade way back when. Whether any characters show autistic traits is a thing I don’t know and haven’t really looked at. One thing which really did catch my attention is that several friends who have read significant portions of my story have said that they can see the male and female lead characters are _both_ me. Hmm, interesting, was not a conscious decision on my part, it just seems to have happened on it own.
And it is only this summer that I directly included autism or CFS/ME in the timed writing to prompts exercises we do at weekly writers group meetings.
Think I’ll leave my book as-is, if autistic traits appear in some people they do, if they don’t they don’t. I’m not going to make a deliberate effort to work them in. They personalities will be what they turn out to be.
Which brings up a sometimes fun thing in writing: here you are going along and suddenly find yourself having written a character doing a thing you didn’t foresee having them do, but yet when you sit back and think about it, okay, yeah, I can see where that could come from.
Schereeya, you write beautifully! Your words leap from the page – your voice, your passion, your chuckles are audibly ripe!
I won’t go and buy this book but only because there are so many non-fiction tomes on autism that I’m still trying to afford to purchase. But in time I shall look up Helen Hoang – though I, too (as a pansexual woman) would be doubly delighted if she could combine autism with queer representation in future writings.