A lot of my reading friends have been enjoying romance novels lately, but I’ve been hesitant to give the genre much attention, not so much out of snobbery but because I already enjoy too many genres. I don’t need another to try to keep up with! However, my annoyance with the lack of story in so many recent books and my desire for something where I know things will likely turn out okay got me thinking that maybe I should give a romance novel a try. A lot of friends have enjoyed Helen Hoang’s book, so when I saw it at the bookstore, I decided I might as well give it a try. And it was so sweet and fun!
The premise of the novel is that Stella, a successful econometrist, decides she needs some help with her sex life. She’s autistic and tends to get really tense and uncomfortable whenever she has sex, and she assumes that this is why none of her relationships last. (In truth, she’s dated selfish lovers who don’t care about her pleasure, but she doesn’t really recognize that.) So, on impulse, she hires an escort named Michael and asks him to teach her to be better at sex.
As you can imagine, the story gets pretty steamy, because so much centers specifically on how Stella responds to sex. It is extremely explicit about their sex life. But, for me, the real heart of the story is in seeing Stella and Michael learn to take care of each other beyond the bedroom. Because, again, as you can imagine, the relationship doesn’t stay strictly professional, although both Stella and Michael have a hard time seeing what the other is feeling, largely because of their own insecurities and their inability to be honest about their personal backgrounds. There were several points in the story where I genuinely thought they’d had a mutual break-through and realized their feelings for each other, but every time they each ended up back in the land of uncertainty. I wanted to shake them every time! That feeling of annoyance was tempered by the fact that I know romances end happily, and I could see the value of the HEA trope reading this.
If I were to put my critical-thinking hat on, I could find things to complain about. Stella and Michael have such strong feelings so quickly, for example. There are some coincidences that are way too much. And I almost gave up on the book in this first chapter because conversations Stella had with her family and with a co-worker about made me want to crawl out of my skin. (Turns out I was supposed to feel uncomfortable.) The thing is, this is a happy little fantasy about people who want to give and receive love. If you buy into it (and some people won’t), those potential complaints just pass right by. And that’s what happened for me.