The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
Xolo Score 3/5
The Kiss Quotient follows the story of Stella, a brilliant
econometrician who lives in the Bay Area and, like so many of us, is trying to find love in a dating cesspool. And, of course, Stella’s mother adds more pressure to Stella's dating woes by consistently asking about her prospects and when she’ll have children. So it’s no surprise that Stella hires a male escort, Michael, to teach her how to be a “good girlfriend” and sexual partner. Michael is committed to separating business and pleasure, but their lessons in love soon turn into a hot romance that sweeps both of them off their feet.
*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***
Author Helen Hoang writes a gendered swapped version of Pretty Woman that subverts several gender norms typical in a heterosexual romantic relationship. For instance, when he isn’t escorting or helping his mother’s tailoring, Michael is deeply passionate about fashion and design. And Stella is the lead econometrician for a large tech company where she makes obscene amounts of money. Hoang also takes the time to show the deep insecurities both characters have around love. So we do not just see Stella exhibit doubts or feelings of inadequacy. These anxieties are a two-way street. However, it’s important to mention that although Hoang makes Michael an escort, he is indeed a sex worker paid for sexual services. It’s easy to conflate the terms, but there is a clear difference, especially in legality and when it comes to advocacy around the decriminalization of sex work in the U.S.
When it comes to the diversity of the characters, The Kiss Quotient starts by challenging the negative stereotype that Asian men are undesirable making Michael, a Vietnamese man, the object of physical and romantic desire for several women. However, Michael attributes his attractiveness to the physical parts he inherited from his white father. On the other hand, Stella’s race and ethnicity are kept ambiguous. Certain aspects of her familial culture could come from an immigrant or Asian identity. But Hoang has left it to the reader’s interpretation.
And regarding Stella’s physical attractiveness, she is described as “pretty, and [doesn’t] know it.” This line always reads like a backhanded compliment. Because it doesn't consider that most women are conditioned into believing they are undesirable for not fitting white-centric standards of beauty. While simultaneously implying that the person doesn’t realize that they do match white-centric beauty standards and don’t know it.
What makes The Kiss Quotient stand out is the portrayal of Stella as an autistic woman who knows her self-worth and the right she has to consensual pleasures. And through Stella’s experiences, we get to see how many social norms assume everyone is neurotypical. For instance, when Stella meets Michael’s family for the first time, there is a clash when she insists on asking several questions about Michael's father, but no one tells her directly that he’s
persona non grata. Instead, they use everyday subtleties and expect Stella to “take the hint.” It speaks to a more extensive observation that, as a society, we prefer to cryptically and indirectly communicate to avoid directness and the sometimes harsher truths that come with open and honest communication.
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