Book Review: Emergency Contact By Mary H. K. Choi

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Goodreads Synopsis:

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.

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I had a hard time reviewing this book. Mainly because I both loved it and kind of also, not hated, that’s too strong of a word, but, I disliked it too. I don’t often read contemporary YA novels and it’s strange to say that although I disliked a few things about this book, it was still interesting and gripping enough for me to know I could probably read it again and enjoy it if I wanted to.

Emergency Contact is a story that unfolds through the perspective of both Sam, a tattooed, sensitive, coffee shop manager and the intense, apocalypse survival kit enthusiast, Penny. After a not so smooth meeting, they exchange numbers and become almost immediately inseparable, spending nearly every waking hour text messaging each other.

When I first started reading this book I found the main character, Penny, rather obnoxious. Penny came across as self centred and judgemental to the point of being a hypocrite. She sees herself as something “other” and not like other girls. On several occasions I found her to be abrasive and lacking in any real compassion to anyone with different interests or a different personality to her. She sees nearly every other woman she interacts with as stupid and vapid. Sam was also very self indulgent, but he was easier to warm to than Penny for me. As the book progressed however, it was easy to see why these characters were so deeply flawed and it actually made me like them more as the story progressed and they started growing from their interactions and experiences. The characters, despite being a little unlikable at times, felt real and interesting.

The plot was great! It tackled some pretty intense issues including racism, substance abuse and sexual assault. There were times I did find myself skim reading through a lot of the more dense writing to get back to Penny and Sam’s interactions. I had a few laugh out loud moments when it came to their dialogue which I really loved, but I also had a few eye-roll moments when they both just seemed to come across as a little pretentious. Despite this, I really did end up loving both Sam and the (very) quirky, Penny.

Overall the book was hard to rate. I burned through it in a couple of days and I ended up liking it more and more as the story progressed, however my initial response was a feeling that maybe this was one YA novel I was just too old for (which never happens, I adore YA). I feel really perplexed and I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I get the feeling I may read this again and enjoy it more the second time around. Because of this, I am giving Emergency Contact 3.5 stars.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for sending me a copy of this book!

One thought on “Book Review: Emergency Contact By Mary H. K. Choi

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