49 pages 1 hour read

Helen Hoang

The Kiss Quotient

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2018

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Summary and Study Guide


The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang is a modern romance that follows Stella Lane, an autistic woman, learning how to be in a romantic partnership. Hoang’s first novel, it is a New York Times bestseller and is listed as the Amazon Best Romance 2018, USA, and the Goodreads 2018 Choice Awards! Best Romance 2018 USA. Hoang was diagnosed with autism in 2016 while her daughter was being screened for the same condition. Hoang uses her experience with late-life diagnosis, as well as her research on autism, to inform her portrayal of Stella. Hoang also provides a list of recommended non-fiction texts for readers interested in learning more about autism, particularly autism in women.

This guide uses the 2021 Jove mass market edition of the novel.

Content Warning: Please be advised that this text contains graphic descriptions of sex, as well as depictions of unwanted romantic advances, sex work, emotional abuse, and financial insecurity.

Plot Summary

Stella Lane is a successful econometrician with autism whose life revolves around her work. When her mother tells her that she would like grandchildren the same day her coworker Phillip tells her she needs to “practice” sex, Stella decides to hire an escort to act as her tutor. Michael Larsen (who goes by Michael Phan to his clients) meets Stella and is charmed by her intellectual brilliance and her physical appearance. Stella asks to hire him as her teacher, withholding her autism diagnosis for fear of being treated differently, and they try to become intimate. Things do not go as planned when Stella struggles with physical closeness, and they spend most of the night cuddling. The next morning, Michael rejects Stella’s request to be her teacher, but when she resolves to hire a different escort, he grants her three “lessons.”

Over the course of their next several encounters, Stella struggles with physical intimacy, often freezing up with anxiety. The two have a romantic evening that ends poorly when Stella experiences overstimulation at a night club, and she realizes that she needs to practice relationships, not sex. She asks Michael to be her pretend boyfriend, and he considers her offer. Stella finds him working at his mother’s drycleaners, where he also alters clothes. She realizes his suits are all his own design. He accepts her offer and invites her over to dinner with his family. The night is disastrous, however, as Stella’s anxiety and curiosity about Michael’s missing father result in his mother’s tears. Stella learns that Michael’s father had affairs and ran out on the family. The next morning, she apologizes to Michael’s mother, and that evening Michael picks her up to try a family dinner again.

The two grow increasingly physically and emotionally intimate, falling in love while keeping secrets from each other. Stella does not reveal her autism to Michael, although his cousin, Quan, shares her diagnosis. One night, while waiting for Michael to get condoms, Stella investigates his apartment and realizes that he has taken on responsibility for his mother’s cancer treatment bills. The two spend every day with each other, and after another family dinner, Stella arranges an internship interview for Michael’s sister Janie. When Stella’s coworker, Phillip, kisses her, she is distressed and realizes that she only wants Michael. Michael, though enraged at the kiss, does not confess his love to Stella.

The two attend a charity dinner organized by Stella’s mother. There, Michael fails to impress Stella’s father. He also meets Phillip and is distressed by how intellectually similar he and Stella are, making Michael feel inferior. When Phillip’s mother, one of Michael’s obsessive ex-clients, arrives, Michael leaves, and Stella follows. Outside the event, Michael tells Stella that his father was a con artist and ends their agreement, revealing he knows about her autism. Stella believes that he is breaking up with her because she is autistic, not realizing that he is ending their relationship because of his own self-consciousness. Stella goes back inside and furiously explains Michael’s situation to the others before leaving with her mother.

Both Michael and Stella struggle in the wake of their breakup. Michael throws away his clothing sketches while Stella tries to suppress the parts of herself associated with autism. Michael takes his mother to a doctor’s appointments and learns that all her bills are to be paid for from a newly established foundation. His mother encourages him to develop his own clothing line. After a talk with Janie, Stella accepts herself and asks Phillip on a date. Michael, after hearing that Stella is doing well, decides to pursue his fashion line and asks Quan to be his business partner. Stella’s date with Phillip goes poorly, but he tries to kiss her. Quan and Michael, across the street, see the kiss. When Stella rejects Phillip but he continues his advances, Michael punches him. He follows Stella to make sure she is okay, but she refuses to be his pity friend. He realizes that she must love him and resolves to win her back. Over the course of the next week, he showers her office with presents, then shows up at her work. He confesses his love and the two reconcile, talking about their futures. Michael tells Stella he plans to propose in three months, warning her because he knows she dislikes surprises.

Four months later, Michael prepares to launch his fashion line. He and Stella are engaged. Stella visits him at a photo shoot and tells him about her promotion, which includes a bonus. She asks to buy him a car and he agrees, understanding that she is just trying to express her love.

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