July 2018, 336 pages, Corvus, £2.48 (ex Amazon Whispersync)
Scrolling through twitter, I read about an author who is gathering praised for diversifying romance. Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient is a love story with an autistic heroine and Vietnamese American hero. It engages sharply with issues about disability and social norms without compromising on heat and drama. Always grumbling about how there is a lack of representation and people of colour in romance, I don’t make as much effort as I should to seek out alternative stories. Hoang proves that our much loved formula-genre is ever more enhanced with voices that are usually excluded.
I’m not sure why romance is dominated by the white boy meets girl scenario, the answer lies somewhere uncomfortable and complicated. The stigma that the romance genre carries, in general, makes it hard for those within the industry to criticise it at all. But I’m glad there are authors shaking things up while keeping what we love best: lurve.
Hoang was recently diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, previously known as Asberger’s Syndrome. The creation of her heroine, Stella Lane, was modeled close to her personal journey with autism. Stella is a successful economist, but struggles with social situations especially reading social cues and is very sensitive to sensory disturbances, such as loud noise. This makes dating a nightmare. Feeling great pressure from her parents to find a husband she decides to be practical and hires an escort to teach her how to be the perfect girlfriend. Enter Michael, a very good looking guy down on his luck and facing bankruptcy. He has resorted to escorting to make ends meet. When he meets Stella, he realises that she is no ordinary client. What she is proposing sounds ridiculous and dangerous, but he finds himself tempted just to spend more time with her. This is where the reader gets hooked into their unique dynamic.
The teacher-student-contract plot does of course crop up all the time, and it’s one of my favourites (Educating Caroline by Patricia Cabot). However, Hoang introduces a new spin to this reverse ‘Pretty Woman’ story, by dealing with ideas of cultural differences, social expectations and class. Nothing too heavy.
I listened to this on audiobook- my first time listening to romance. Quite an experience! Mostly exciting, but I do not recommend tuning in when you are in crowded places. Sometimes the dialogue felt very slow moving at times, but I’m not sure whether that was from the narrator or writing. Overall, this is a wonderful read that paves a promising future for the industry.