Emergency Contact, by Mary H. K. Choi
Publish Date: March 27, 2018
Published by: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Genre: YA Fiction
My Rating: ★★★★☆ (4 out of 5 stars)
**I received an ARC of this from the publisher as a Barnes & Noble Bookseller in return for an honest review.**
For Penny Lee high school was a total nonevent. Her friends were okay, her grades were fine, and while she somehow managed to land a boyfriend, he doesn’t actually know anything about her. When Penny heads to college in Austin, Texas, to learn how to become a writer, it’s seventy-nine miles and a zillion light years away from everything she can’t wait to leave behind.
Sam’s stuck. Literally, figuratively, emotionally, financially. He works at a café and sleeps there too, on a mattress on the floor of an empty storage room upstairs. He knows that this is the god-awful chapter of his life that will serve as inspiration for when he’s a famous movie director but right this second the seventeen bucks in his checking account and his dying laptop are really testing him.
When Sam and Penny cross paths it’s less meet-cute and more a collision of unbearable awkwardness. Still, they swap numbers and stay in touch—via text—and soon become digitally inseparable, sharing their deepest anxieties and secret dreams without the humiliating weirdness of having to see each other.
I had been hearing about this book all over the internet for a while before we received the ARC at work, and immediately snatched it up. It sounded like it was going to be a cute romance that is perfect for our modern age and I was eager to see what it was about. And while I wouldn’t say it was a “cute” romance, it was certainly an entertaining read with great characters and writing that kept me engaged.
To begin with, I would say the writing of the story is definitely what is the strongest point of the book. Choi has a very distinct voice that works well for both her characters and the plot itself, creating a very unique feel to this story. It’s so very down-to-earth and realistic, while holding no bars back when it comes to honesty about life. I think there were only a few times when I got mildly disinterested, usually when one of the characters started narrating a mile-a-minute in terms and analogies that I did not completely understand, or when things were tossed around out of order. Still, the flow of the book is excellent, moving at a decent pace and holding my interest from beginning to end.
I thought the characters were extremely interesting and well-written, with Penny definitely being my favorite with her bluntness and attitude. She and Sam worked well together, and I enjoyed their dynamic together both in text and in person. Their character development was excellent over the course of the novel, although I felt their relationship development moved a little more quickly than I expected. It’s possibly because they seemed to learn so much about each other off the page that I felt like I was just missing certain key moments between them. Otherwise, though, I thought they, and the secondary characters, were all very well rounded and worked wonderfully together.
[SPOILER] Now this is a major spoiler about something that is revealed towards the end of the book that kind of annoyed me. It comes to light that Penny was raped when she was fourteen by her then nineteen-year-old French tutor that her mother hired, and this is supposedly the strongest reason why she is always so angry at her mother. In all honesty, this plot point felt completely unnecessary in terms of Penny’s character. It did absolutely nothing for her personal growth. She already resented her mother for her blasé ways and how Penny felt she was the one taking care of her instead of the other way around. Yes, she mentioned once being unable to have sex with her boyfriend because of feelings of dread, but considering Penny’s personality I felt like it made sense that she had major underlying issues about having sex with a guy she really wasn’t all that into that she might have been trying to ignore. To me, her suddenly coming out about having been raped in the past kind of ruined things for me – it just put this added issue onto her already problematic relationship with her mother, and did absolutely nothing to further the plot or her relationship with anyone else. I just felt like it was an unnecessary revelation that had barely been alluded to before and that did almost nothing in the context of the plot or character growth. [END SPOILER]
This book is definitely an entertaining read, with real-life people dealing with real-life issues and learning how to lean on others in order to deal with it all. The writing is wonderful, the characters are full of life, and the story easily keeps the attention. Despite a few flaws here and there, it is still something I would definitely recommend.