This may well be the best romance novel I’ve ever read. And it’s not just because it features a leading pair from two wildly under-represented groups in romance fiction. From start to finish, I desperately wanted our lovers to wind up together. I have literally never cared so much about a romantic couple having their HEA as much as I did this one.
Our heroine is Stella, an econometrician and autistic who has trouble socializing: not great when her mom has high hopes of grandbabies out of her only child. Her experiences with men have been so terrible that she decides that the most rational way to overcome them is by getting better at sex. So she hires Michael, a half-Vietnamese half-white escort, to teach her. Soon enough, they’ve graduated to practicing at a relationship instead of just practicing in bed. But will her neuroatypical reasonings and his self-punishing prejudices keep them from committing to the love they’re growing together?
It’s sort of a reverse Pretty Woman, only with a lot less of the grossness of that movie, and a lot more insight into both autism and Vietnamese culture. Stella and Michael are two lovely people caught in complicated circumstances, and the way they come to one another is one of the sweetest darn things I’ve ever experienced. It was also shockingly realistic despite the rich patron-poor prostitute framing. I mean, I get it, romances are about happily ever afters and those are far easier to obtain when our heroic couple is rolling in money, but honestly it’s one of my least favorite romance novel tropes. Poor people fall in love with each other too, you know. I will say one thing: while I would have found Michael’s behavior towards the end absolutely revolting from any other person, I thought it appropriate here, as he was mirroring what Stella had told him she would do herself in his situation.
Anyway, absolutely delightful romance with heart and brains and depth. I’m super looking forward to reading the next book in the series once it’s available from the library: the excerpt that I read from The Bride Test was really great, even as I sense that it’ll wind up being another rich-poor pairing again, though with a “lost heiress” angle this time. Minor annoyance in the face of how terrific the rest of the premise reads tho.