Before anyone takes this review to heart, it should be noted that my opinion appears to be in the minority. In fact, reading Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient has simply affirmed that I don’t enjoy stories rooted solely in romance. For that reason, this rating – and the criticisms that contribute to it – should be taken with a grain of salt.
The Kiss Quotient follows Stella Lane, a genius econometrician, as she struggles to navigate sex and romance. Despite being a whiz at math, Stella has very little experience in the romance department, so she hires a male escort – the stunning, Swedish-Vietnamese Michael – to teach her. While the two intend for their relationship to remain strictly professional, they inevitably develop feelings for each other.
The most unique aspect of The Kiss Quotient is, of course, Stella Lane. As a character on the autism spectrum, Stella gives an otherwise simple, straightforward story a new luster. Hoang herself is on the autism spectrum, which lends a sense of authenticity to the story. Readers on the spectrum will identify with Stella’s idiosyncrasies, such as her attachment to routine, her sensitivity to overstimulation, and her socially-awkward behavior. While most of The Kiss Quotient was a miss for me, I truly did like and identify with Stella.
Unfortunately, Stella isn’t enough to carry The Kiss Quotient on her own. Once the plot gets underway, the tired tropes that make up the romance overshadow Stella’s fresh perspective. The Kiss Quotient is full of steamy sex scenes, pining, and miscommunication resulting in drama – all fine as additions to a compelling plot, but with nothing else to add, the romance quickly becomes dull and predictable. An interesting romance needs pressures on the main couple, either internal or external – and when the former is used, a more compelling narrative requires that the characters are flawed. Seeing two people reunited and affirming their love is more satisfying when they have to forgive each other their faults and grow as characters. This is not the case in The Kiss Quotient, in which Michael and Stella’s main issue is a failure to communicate. Falling back on the “he/she doesn’t really love me because this is a practice relationship” issue quickly becomes repetitive and loses its appeal. If a problem can be solved by a fifteen-minute discussion, it isn’t complex enough to carry a novel.
As mentioned above, The Kiss Quotient contains a lot of graphic sex. Readers with modest preferences should give this book a pass; the sex is so constant and explicit as to become excessive. My own frustration with the sex scenes doesn’t come from puritanical disgust so much as boredom. Do we really need paragraphs discussing Stella’s nipples and repeated descriptions of her “Lamborghini?” Perhaps this is a matter of personal preference, but sex scenes can be well-written and sensual without being over-the-top. (That being said, the “sweet potato” discussion was kind of adorable.)
All in all, The Kiss Quotient is a straightforward romance from a fresh perspective. Readers who enjoy romance, steamy sex scenes, or insight into the autism spectrum should appreciate Hoang’s debut novel. I only wish The Kiss Quotient had been less predictable, but perhaps a story about an econometrician was always going to be as obvious as simple math.