I fell hard for Hoang’s debut romance, The Kiss Quotient, a genderbent retelling of Pretty Woman that featured an autistic heroine and a kind-hearted male escort. I’m thrilled that Hoang, herself on the spectrum, is back with a companion novel set in the same universe. If you’re looking for more terrific reads featuring autistic or otherwise differently wired protagonists, check out these compelling recent releases.
The Bride Test, by Helen Hoang
Khai Diep (cousin of Kiss Quotient’s Michael Phan) takes center stage this time around, with beautiful results. Khai is autistic, and his self-worth has taken a hit because he doesn’t think he’s capable of love or relationships. Khai’s mother insists on setting him up with Esme Tran, a mixed-race girl from Vietnam whom she hopes will marry Khai. For her part, Esme is determined to make the most of her trip to America, but she doesn’t count on falling in love with Khai, who slowly learns that his way of processing and expressing emotions is just as authentic and real as anyone else’s.
The Girl He Used to Know, by Tracey Garvis Graves
During their senior year at the University of Illinois, college sweethearts Annika and Jonathan’s love story abruptly ended, and the two parted ways. As a high-functioning autistic woman, Annika eschewed crowds and difficult social situations, preferring to spend her time playing chess and reading. Ten years after her breakup with Jonathan, Annika is working her dream job as a librarian when the two meet by chance and a tentative new relationship forms—but can they overcome the heartache of the past and truly move forward together? An uplifting, poignant read.
Convenience Store Woman, by Sayaka Murata (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori)
This is a love story between a woman and convenience store. Not only will you understand why they’re meant to be together, but you’ll root for them to be left alone in their symbiotic serenity. The only time thirtysomething Keiko Furukura feels at peace is when she goes to work at Smile Mart, Tokyo’s version of 7-Eleven, where every interaction is scripted and her day proceeds precisely as planned. As a part-time employee and something of a loner, she’s considered odd by her peers. When the pressure to conform to society’s priorities overwhelms her, she shifts her focus away from the store and misery ensues. This quick but brilliant and extremely affecting novel won the Akutagawa Prize in Japan.
Meet Me in Outer Space, by Melinda Grace
In this compelling #ownvoices book with spot-on disability rep, Edie’s central auditory processing disorder (CAPD) isn’t something most people know about, and she rarely brings attention to it. During sophomore year of college, however, French class has become more difficult than Edie could have imagined, and her professor doesn’t seem willing to accommodate her. Her fervent wish to study abroad in Paris suddenly feels impossible—but luckily her new tutor, Hudson, is up to the challenge, and doesn’t hide the fact that he’s also crushing hard on Edie. Their burgeoning romance makes her worry her plans may fall by the wayside—can she have a relationship and stay true to her goals?
The Truth As Told By Mason Buttle, by Leslie Connor
The product of a “walk-away daddy” and a mother who recently died, twelve-year-old Mason Buttle lives with his grandmother and uncle in a rundown house while he recovers from the suspicious death of his best friend. The local police are convinced Mason knows more than he’s been willing or able to share with them. His dyslexia is so severe he has trouble reading and writing, and the only person at school who treats him kindly is his social worker, Ms. Blinny. Then he makes a new friend, Calvin, and a pattern seems to emerge in Mason’s behavior when Calvin goes missing, too. Mason’s narration is beautifully and sensitively portrayed, and as the truth about the hidden tragedies slowly rises to the surface, you’ll be moved beyond measure by this critically acclaimed National Book Award Finalist.
The State of Grace, by Rachael Lucas
In this relatable YA novel, high school student Grace has Asperger’s Syndrome, sometimes referred to as “high-functioning autism.” While no two autistic people are the same, for Grace this diagnosis means she thrives in familiar environments, but has difficulty navigating situations outside those arenas. She feels at home at the horse stables and alongside her best friend, Anna, but dealing with judgmental classmates, a younger sister who seems to be hiding something, and a father who’s out of town a lot prove to be trickier. When Grace’s crush on Gabe seems to be reciprocated, and Leah’s standoffish behavior gets explained, life spirals out of control for Grace, who fears she’ll never be “normal” when she doesn’t know (or necessarily care) what that means. A compelling read for anyone who has ever felt like they don’t belong (i.e., everyone).