The novel focuses on Stella Lane, a woman with Asperger’s who has trouble with relationships and intimacy. That’s when she takes up the help from Michael Phan, an escort who she hires. Their relationship is meant to be a transaction and Michael breaks his rules, ultimately having more than one session with her and letting her practice being a girlfriend.
One of the most important things that can first draw any reader in is the fact that a character who has Asperger’s is being represented, while today many characters aren’t necessarily given disabilities that mimic that of the real world. Stella herself is a character with her quirks, but is also well-written so that people can gain insight into what it’s like for people with Asperger’s.
Furthermore, the budding relationship between Michael and Stella is one that is realistic. They have their instances of fights or spats, mainly where Michael is unaware of Stella’s condition; the way loud noises trigger her or the number of intense questions confused him. After finding that news out, he becomes unsure but helpful.
Hoang also goes beyond romantic conventions. She also explores Michael’s Vietnamese heritage as well as his family structure. Hoang does well to switch between perspectives, bringing forth how Michael feels about his father leaving them, how it affects the family, and the culture in which he grew up.
Stella is relatable in the sense that she wants to be loved and has issues and insecurities. Many people may be able to find themselves in her shoes or have felt that way at once, and Stella is a character who has her flaws and who overthinks, but has a good conscious and heart that is memorable.
Hoang’s novel is one that gives representation where it’s needed. It also is a novel that sparks a reader’s own curiosity, and asks questions like what exactly does my heritage mean? Where do I fit in on the spectrum of relationships? How can I see these characters in myself?
The writing is also admirable in terms of its metaphors and quirky nature. By no means is the reading necessarily advanced, but it is strong and memorable since it’s accessible to many different levels. Overall the novel offers instances of social stigma that are disheartening but also realistic, it offers insight into both interpersonal and outside relationships that everyone can take something from. More than anything else, the novel is one that many people should give a chance.