Stella Lane sees the world in math and economics. There is no room for error and there's a formula for everything. So when she's ready for a serious relationship she creates a to-do list and gets ready to start checking off boxes! The only problem is, romantic chemistry is not a formula she can predict.
There is much to appreciate about this debut novel. It is fun and sexy. It is highly readable - a comedy of errors of sorts and critique of traditional relationships. Stella is an unusual and noteworthy character. She's beautiful, beyond wealthy and has an enviable job as an "econometrician" working with algorithms to predict consumer purchases, similar to the "you might like to buy" features of online retailers. She also has Asperger's and a pushy mother who is demanding grandchildren. Because of Stella's challenging career schedule and discomfort dating, she decides to hire someone to help her succeed in attracting a partner. Enter Michael Phan, an American Vietnamese-Swedish escort who is perfect for her and needs the income.
Warning bells went off in my head at this point. It's impossible for me to think about romance that involves work or someone's livelihood in the same way I might have years ago, but the premise that Stella needs help (or thinks she needs help) is an integral part of the story and the social commentary on sex and various stigmas is necessary.
The main characters have varying biracial and Asian American identities and socioeconomic backgrounds and Michael's backstory adds a lot to the intrigue. Both Stella's and Michael's family structures are complicated but loving and supportive. There are also several stunning food dates that will leave a lasting impression.
The author, Helen Hoang, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder as an adult and wanted to write a reverse Pretty Woman story that resulted in her learning more about her own idiosyncrasies as she was writing them for Stella. Final sum: the introduction of an econ-math genius heroine with Asperger's who defies stereotypes is a welcome one. I'm ready for more #OwnVoices romance novels that explore societal issues and the idea that we are all worthy of love and romance with customizable expectations.