I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
Mary H.K. Choi’s debut novel Emergency Contact is a story of friendship and love, and overcoming grief through the deep connects formed even over short periods of times. A touching novel about self-realization and forgiveness, it’s a very strong story and I am extremely happy that I was lucky enough to get the ARC. NOTE: This book contains an example of sexual assault, consider this a trigger warning.
The story is told in the third person perspective from the points of view of Sam Becker and Penny Lee, switching back and forth every chapter. Penny’s side of the story revolves around her going away to college and continually struggling to cope with the people are her who are not like her along with fighting against past grudges against her mom. Sam’s side is he is a recovering alcoholic dealing with the aftermath of the end of a toxic relationship he yearns to have back among an abundance of other problems.
The two of them are brought together in a swirl of events that lead Sam and Penny to be each other’s “emergency contact”. Not really sure what that exactly entails, the two grow closer with a goofy text-only friendship.
I love Penny. There are times where she comes across as very “I’m not like the other girls” but, you know what? Girls like that exist. At one point even I was one of those girls. She’s brilliant and therefore tends to hold herself and possible friends at impossibly high standards, thus ostracizing herself without necessarily meaning to. Her mom is very much a 25-year-old in the body of a 40-year-old and Penny struggles with how different they are as well. As far as this trope goes, Penny is one of the best written and nothing about her detracted from the story at all.
Sam is a dream. In any other story he would be the manic pixie dream boy looking for his manic pixie dream girl, but refuses to be “that guy” and therefore is even more likable. Sam is anti-toxic masculinity, baking and making “girly” drinks at the coffee shop he works in. He honestly is just a really sweet guy who was truly dealt a shitty hand in his childhood. He also has a lot of baggage to deal with and he does his best to handle.
The Issues [ spoilers / trigger warning ]
I have no issues with this novel. Honestly, I can’t even think of a single problem. The only moment that made me uncomfortable was when Penny was recounting her sexual assault. It was a very well written moment in the book, especially since it deals with Penny wondering if it truly counts as an assault. Sam reassures her and is very cautious when physically near her, not wanting to do anything to trigger her or make her uncomfortable. I was impressed with Choi’s ability to write this scene and appreciated the care that was very clearly taken to write this scene without making it overtly obscene or triggering to anyone who has gone through a similar situation.
I loved Emergency Contact. The characters were full of depth and very relatable. The story was heartfelt and touching but also made me laugh out loud at some of the nonsensical text conversations Sam and Penny had with each other. I’ve read several ARCs so far this year, but this is first one I can confidently say I will be buy several copies of to throw at my friends. I hope that Mary H.K. Choi sees great success off of this novel and continues to write more.
Author: Mary H.K. Choi
Published: March 27th 2018
Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
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.