Updated: Nov 6, 2019
Please clap between each of these words: “I loved The Kiss Quotient!”
Yes, it's that serious.
As a Black Feminist, I have spent the majority of my reading life with the likes of Toni Morrison, bell hooks, Zora Neal Hurston and Alice Walker. I had no palette for nor interest in romance novels. In fact, I found them to be superficial and irrelevant to my life and times. I mean, who has time to read that foolishness (apparently me now). Yes, quite judgmental and a bit uppity; I’m serious about my book life. The truth is, I am more predisposed to love stories such as “Ceiling and Ifemelu” in “Americanah;"one of my favorite books of all time.
Love stories versus romance, paints the full picture. They're about the challenges and triumphs of making love work that are often wrapped up in social identity and social conditions. I think of Roy and Celestial in “An American Marriage” and the way institutional racism served to interrupt a love so primal and flawed that those characters still live deep inside of me. Or Connell and Marianne in “Normal People” – ugh - complicated, layered, sad. Love stories resonate and because they're so fiercely rooted in reality, they also affirm. So, it is no small thing for me to say “I LOVED “The Kiss Quotient” (remember the hand clap)!
Traditional romance novels focus on the first six weeks of a relationship; the short time when love is lusty and fun. You know, the point in the relationship when reality hasn’t quite settled into the core and daily rhythms of things. It is really the most exciting time; energy is high and hope is abundantly reckless. “The Kiss Quotient” is all of the above plus a stark look at real issues of disability, class and consent.
More impressively, this is a fiercely intersectional Feminist book. Not the typical, unimaginative and mundane kind of Feminism where the womxn doubts her professional identity or metaphorically stomps around screaming "I don't need a man to take care of me." Eye roll.
"The Kiss Quotient" is the kind of intersectional Feminism where I reside; we’re badass womxn of color and we know it! We are slaying in our careers and otherwise. This is not because we “woke up like this." I mean maybe we did however; I subscribe to the story line where we have to work our asses off for every ounce of success and sanctity because really, that’s the story of any successful womxn despite our genes! And no, we don’t need a man to tell us we’re good at what we do nor do they have the power to make us question ourselves. We both giveth and taketh; we bestow our own glory. And sometimes, yes we want to be taken care of - not controlled. For some of us, to believe we deserve to be taken care of, prioritized and then make it a precondition for bae status, well that is transgressive and in my opinion, fundamentally Feminist.
For that simple fact; being an intersectional Feminist romance, I loved this book. Here are my other reasons:
The main character has Aspergers.
I respect Helen Hoang’s choice to write the lead character as being neurodivergent. There are so few stories about disabled people who are sexual, sensual and boldly seeking pleasure that it is easy to desexualize and invisibilize an entire community.
Stella’s description of her life as a neurodivergent womxn added dimension to my understanding of what it means to live with Asperger on a daily basis. Sometimes, a story like Stella's can be reduced to a cerebral exercise rather than an experience of the heart and soul. Without being tragic and despondent, Helen added texture to the life of a womxn living with Aspergers while simultaneously deepening my humanity.
An explicit discussion about consent.
One of the characteristics of Stella living with Asperger is a need for explicit consent to touch. While this notion of consent is built around her "disability," the book caused me to think about the looseness of our social norms and rules around touch and otherwise.
With each moment of her giving permission to be touched, Michael asking for permission to touch and even Stella asking for consent to engage Michael, I felt a sense of power, peace and safety. Quite frankly, I became more wet. I left this book believing that consent should not be assumed even in the most benign situations. There is something so essential and surprisingly sexy about kissing a person who explicitly says they want to be kissed.
In plain language: CONSENT IS A RIGHT. It also happens to be LUSTY AND SEXY.
In my opinion, it centers an Asian womxn.
Listen, as an Afro-Latinx womxn, I’m always on my side and will write stories from my perspective. So, I read Stella’s character as an Asian womxn and that alone had me sold. I can’t tell you the last time I read, saw or even heard an Asian womxn written so richly. Oh wait, Christina Yang; what a character!!!
Again, we need more representation – complicated, nuanced and diverse depictions of Asian womxn, who like Stella, may admittedly be living some of the common stereotypes however; are quite elegantly smashing others!
Reinforces womxn’s right to claim and expect pleasure.
Um, please refer to page 26. In fact, please refer to pages 1-314. This entire book is about Stella learning that she has the right to pleasure, her seeking it and her learning that part of experiencing pleasure is to give pleasure especially to a person who is equally invested in her joy and sexual satisfaction. Powerful. Feminist. Period.
Cast of womxn all basking in their power – unapologetically so.
Helen Hoang created an impressive cast of female characters. They’re smart, wise and ambitious. They're sassy, forgiving and unafraid to wrestle both literally and figuratively. And, I’m all for it!
I loved the subtle ways this cadre of womxn reinforce the idea that only a village of “deviant” and “defiant” womxn can nurture other “deviant and defiant” womxn. They have all deviated from what is expected of Asian womxn to definitely defy all the odds and challenges.