Something to know about me is that I LOVE A GOOD ROMANCE. Rom-coms are my life’s blood but, there are simply not enough of them in the world (though Netflix is making a thoughtful push to cure my rom-com deficit). So, at the tender age of 11, I had to find another avenue for my pent-up romanticism. It started with watching You’ve Got Mail every day (honestly I could still do this now) which led to sweet YA novels which gave way to the real star of the show: the romance novel.
SIDEBAR REAL QUICK LIKE: Let’s talk about romance novels for a second. You’re probably thinking of the paperbacks with lurid covers and titles like The Billionaire’s Secret Love Child Revenge — and yes those qualify – but there are also SO MANY wonderful, beautifully written rom-novs (lol can we make this a thing) that yes, okay, have pretty lurid covers and silly titles too. But, that doesn’t make them any less enjoyable or worthy of discussion. There’s a pervasive notion in pop culture that a certain kind of content is better than another; that a movie created by a room full of men and filmed in a dark, sepia-like finish (the grainier the better) is automatically more worthy of praise, attention, and respect. I think that is bullshit.
Think about this question and answer it HONESTLY to yourself: Do I view content made by women as being FOR women at first glance? Does it pervade my view? Do I view content made by men as “universal” and the go-to, expert experience?
— Neko Case (@NekoCase) June 12, 2018
It’s rare for romance novels to command attention — there is a notable episode of Younger in which basically every character is like “romance authors are in hiding,” which is BULLSHIT WHY SHOULD THEY HIDE, but really illustrates this idea that romance writers should be embarrassed by the work they produce and thus wouldn’t seek the spotlight. Let me assure you that they are not and should not be. ANYWAYS *steps off soapbox and dusts shoulders dramatically* all this to say that I am truly over the moon with joy that Helen Hoang’s blissful, refreshing, sexy as hell new novel is getting the attention and praise it deserves.
In case you haven’t heard anything about the buzzy novel yet, here’s a real quick overview: Our heroine, Stella, doesn’t have a lot of experience with romance — french kissing freaks her out and she’s much more comfortable with equations than with people. She also has Asperger’s — another layer to our complex leading lady. She decides she needs romance lessons of a sort. So what’s a girl to do? Hire an escort, of course.
If this hasn’t convinced you to read the book yet, here’s why you absolutely should (no seriously like go buy it immediately, Amazon has it on prime one-day you have no excuse):
Helen Hoang is a badass
Hoang, like her heroine Stella, has Asperger’s — but she wasn’t diagnosed until she was an adult. In an interview with Bustle, she said: “Ever since I was little, I’d been watching others and struggling to emulate them because I didn’t think I was acceptable the way I was. Discovering that there are entire groups of people who have similar quirks and experiences as I do changed everything.” I want to take Helen Hoang out for coffee and pick her brain about EVERYTHING. She truly seems like a legit hang.
Reading The Kiss Quotient, you’re immediately and totally immersed in Stella’s world. You feel her stress, her confusion, and her pain; but also her triumphs, her sensuality, and her drive to truly enjoy and make the most of her life. She is unique, multi-layered, and fascinating. It’s so lovely to read female characters who are written true-to-life. We deserve to have our stories told, with all our ideals and hopes and failures and challenges. Said Hoang of writing Stella, “When I wrote Stella, I embraced the parts of myself that I’d always been trying to change or hide.” All the applause to this. All of it.
The novel is beautifully diverse
As a romance novel aficionado, I’ve read an alarming amount of them. Gems like The Kiss Quotient stand out because they paint life as it truly is — diverse (culturally, personality-wise, in every way), challenging, heart-breaking, and soul-mending.
There is a scene smack in the middle of the book, in which our hero, Michael, brings Stella over to his mother’s house for a meal. Michael is half Vietnamese and the richness of his culture and heritage flows off the page. At the same time, you see Stella struggle with being in the crowd of his family — she has trouble with over-stimulation. You can feel the specificity of this family in this house in this time — the commotion, the anxiety, and the love. I was rooting so hard for Michael and Stella that I wanted to scream into the book IT’S ALL GOING TO BE OKAY. I love when stories make you feel this way — so attached to the characters that you vibrate with their pain, joy, and confusion at every turn. This is one of the stories. These characters are carefully and masterfully drawn as real people. There are no cliché she’s-just-too-adorkable-for-her-own-good or he’s-an-absolute-douchey-jerk-for-no-reason-at-all plots to navigate around. Michael and Stella are incredibly specific — absolutely their own people full of their own quirks and eccentricities and doubts — but also incredibly relatable.
IT’S SMOKIN’ HOT
This is a romance novel, after all, and it wouldn’t be worth its salt if it didn’t have some truly steamy scenes. And boy ARE THEY STEAMY.
There is such a lovely through line of the entire novel in which Stella is actively seeking her own pleasure. She is making herself — her feelings, her insecurities, her quest for love and acceptance — her priority. How beautiful is that?! She is so vulnerable with Michael about her fears and her desires and it’s just. so. freakin’. lovely. to read about a woman both taking charge of her life and her sexuality on her terms while also learning how to lean on someone for help, for support, for intimacy.
At the same time, Michael is part of the new rise of leading men who are emotionally present without being any less sexy af. (Think: Peter Kavinsky.) The type of man who will recognize you had an emotional, over-stimulated moment at his family dinner and reach out to you when you’re ready, bring you back to his house, and help you try over again with gentle support and always without judgment. The type of man that will make you a dress because you asked him to and tell you honestly about his secret dreams and goals. The same man who will make you laugh, make you think, make you more excited than you’ve ever been. As Sophia Benoit so succinctly put in one of my favorite articles this year, “The Wholesome Man realizes he can be emotionally intelligent without being boring.” That is Michael Phan exactly. And that is DEFINITELY why you need to read this book.
Oh, you want some more recommendations? You know I live for that.