Review: The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

Reviewed by Caitlin

Stella Lane is 30 years old and a very successful econometrician (economics meets math – sounds like a badass job). She works everyday because she’s passionate about what she does. She hates dating just as she hates most social interactions in which she has to meet new people, but her mother is worried about her daughter’s biological clock and so continues to pressure her to go out on dates.

Also, Stella has Asperger’s. In the first chapter, it appears as if this is something to conquer in her mother’s eyes, while her father dotes on her. Mom suggests she date Philip James. They come from the same neighborhood, and they work in the same firm. It makes sense.

What is our introduction to Philip James? He’s in his 30s and agrees to date an intern in his office who is over a decade younger than he is. He sneers at Stella and casts aspersions about what she must be like in bed, then suggests that she practice sex until she’s good at it. At the workplace he says all this. AT THE OFFICE.

He is a cartoon villain – a possessive jackhole who feels so entitled to women you wonder if he’s even heard of the #metoo movement – from the get-go and is literally never called out on it by anyone except for Michael, the book’s hero. And even then, Michael is seen as acting out of jealousy, not as the voice of reason. When Philip sets his sights on the receptionist so Stella doesn’t have to “feel guilty” about letting him down, I wanted to scream at the book’s universe that she didn’t have anything to feel guilty about while also send the receptionist somewhere far, far away where she’ll be safe from such a goddamn lunatic.

Michael Larsen is half-Vietnamese, half-white. His father left a few years ago for another woman, emptying the family’s bank accounts. Around the same time, his mother got cancer. Michael put his promising fashion career on hold to come home and take care of his mother and sisters. The money they make from their dry cleaning and tailoring business isn’t enough, however, so on Friday nights he acts as as escort.

Oh man, if the book was just Stella and Michael, I probably would have loved it. Their scenes together are romantic and sweet (until Michael gets an inferiority complex because he doesn’t think he’s good enough for Stella, which is infuriating) and the characters are well-rounded and likable. I enjoyed spending time with the two of them, even as I was increasingly confused about why they were pretending it wasn’t real anymore even after they basically admitted to liking each other.

It’s everyone else that’s the problem.

Stella, on Philip’s advice to “practice sex,” hires Michael to teach her to have sex. Michael is so blown away by the fact that Stella treats him like a person that he immediately is into her. Stella, thrilled at how tenderly Michael treats her, is worried she’s going to obsess over him when their arrangement is over.

Stella has had sex three times in her life with three different men, all in the hopes that she could date like a “normal” person. (There is a lot of emphasis on trying to be normal in this book.) Her experiences are mentioned casually, as if it’s just bad sex with men who didn’t bother to get to know her, but it sounds a whole hell of a lot like rape to me. One of the guys apparently told her she needed to “loosen up” afterwards! When she gets teary-eyed with Michael during their first encounter and insists they keep going anyway, Michael can’t believe the other men she’s been with actually continued to have sex with her even when she was crying.

ME NEITHER, MICHAEL.

Look, I know people can be assholes to those who are a little different, and I’m not saying anyone has to get super preachy about the behavior of certain men in romance novels, but there doesn’t seem to be any acknowledgement that not only is some of this behavior harmful to Stella, it’s borderline criminal. Helen Hoang has created a universe where women and sex workers should expect to be treated like trash and therefore should hang the stars by anyone who deigns to treat them like a person. It makes me very nervous for her next book, which is about a mother who basically orders a bride from a developing country for her son (also on the spectrum.)

I was really excited about the premise of this book, but it trafficked very casually in ideas that, especially with everything going on in the past couple years, are not something I care to read about anymore. I wish Stella had come to the conclusion that she wanted to experience sex on her own, without Philip goading her. I wish we didn’t need to see just how garbage everyone else was to demonstrate how great the main two characters were. I wish the conclusion that she didn’t need to change was highlighted even more instead of just being treated as further proof that she and Michael are soulmates.

There is a book inside this book I really like. And I wish I had read that one.

Rating: C

Click to purchase: Amazon

The Kiss Quotient
by Helen Hoang
Release Date: June 5, 2018
Publisher: Berkley

Comments

  1. Thank you for this review, Caitlin! I am so glad someone else felt this book was so wrong. I kept hearing and reading reviews raving about it, so I decided to read it to find out what is all the hoopla about.

    I couldn’t finish it. I was very disturbed by the perception Stella had of herself because of a creep like Philip. Vive la differance! I don’t get it. She was beautiful as is. You are right the relationship between Michael and Stella had some great potential but not in this author’s hands.

    • Caitlin says:

      Thanks Ana! I so badly wanted to like this book because it has so much going on that I really like, but the casual acceptance of certain behavior was a bummer.

      Her prose is really good and I do really like the main characters, so hopefully her future books don’t have the same issues.

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