Breakout contemporary romance book of the year, The Kiss Quotient, is both personal and worldly. Author Helen Hoang draws from her journey to attaining a diagnosis for autism to bring to life the story of Stella, a 30-year-old econometrician navigating her way through the ideas of romance, intimacy, and socializing.
The complication of the narrative lies in Stella’s lack of romantic experience and her mother’s (and broader society’s) expectation that a middle-aged woman should settle down with a family… Which would require her to find a husband. She resorts to hiring a Swedish-Vietnamese escort named Michael, who gradually (and humourously) helps Stella to overcome her personal fears. Indeed, it will come as no surprise to chicklit readers that the two make a great couple.
What is so lovable about this story is the frequency of references to Vietnamese culture. For those who grew up in such an environment, the references to “bun rhieu” (a Vietnamese soup noodle dish) and family names like “ngoai” and “me” (grandma and mother respectively) will be comforting and familiar. It’s almost like reading an inside joke every time these subtle insertions of Vietnam are mentioned. Even for those from different backgrounds, these references are explained and readers can follow along Stella’s own learning.
Further, the novel explores autism spectrum disorder, specifically Asperger’s, in a way that is informative, yet devoid of massive “info-dumps” that would otherwise take away from the narrative. Hoang provides a personal story about autism, which manifests itself differently among different people. A lot can be learned from following Stella’s journey through her trials and tribulations, with her blossoming relationship (and ensuing insecurities) with Michael and her hilarious narration, which alternates with Michael’s in the third person.
The writing style is simple, but not crude or rushed, and the pace is very palatable for readers who are easily bored and those who are not. The characters, especially our protagonist and love interest, are funny and full of life. The only caveat to enjoying this book would be that there is a substantial amount of graphic sexual content that may not be suited to younger audiences. Even then, those scenes do not take away from the overall narrative arc, but instead enhance our understanding of Stella’s perceived insecurities and doubts about her sort-of relationships.
All in all, The Kiss Quotient is a refreshing spanner in the chicklit machine. The novel proffers valuable insight into autism and Vietnamese culture, encouraging every reader to seek new perspectives that ultimately shape our society as a whole. Beside the obvious benefits of reading about such topics, the novel is just a great book to dig into in a cozy corner or before a fireplace on a lazy Sunday.
For those who just can’t get enough of Hoang’s writing, look out for the follow-up novel The Bride Test on bookshelves in 2019!
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