Title: Emergency Contact
Author: Mary H.K. Choi
Published: January 2019
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Readership: Young Adult
RRP: $17.99 AUD
I received a copy of Emergency Contact from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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.
Emergence Contact is a cute, and often awkward, exploration of leaving home and falling in love with the last person you expected.
Penny Lee has just finished high school and is moving to college, leaving behind her single mother who more often than not embarrasses Penny with her behaviour, and a boyfriend she’s not entirely sure how she acquired but has kept around anyway. She dreams of becoming a writer and sees the chance to start fresh as a great way of becoming who’s meant to be.
Sam, by contrast, is twenty-one, and left behind his alcoholic mother and lives above the coffee shop where he works. He’s in financial and emotional crisis, a situation that’s only exacerbated when his ex-girlfriend – the love of his life – returns to tell him that she’s pregnant and the baby is his. This sends his life spiralling, and that’s when his path crosses Penny’s – and it’s not love at first sight, because they’re both far too awkward for that kind of nonsense. Trading numbers for emergency contact purposes only, the two strike up a friendship via text messaging until suddenly that friendship threatens to become something more.
I really enjoyed Emergency Contact, but it did take me around one hundred pages or so to really sink into the story. There’s a lot of set-up and backstory, and Penny, in particular was difficult to really like initially. She’s very aloof and insecure and awkward – which is great, because I totally understand that kind of person, because it’s absolutely me – and it’s not until she started to relax just a fraction that I really began to love her. She’s a reflection of the extreme end of awkward around people, and you can feel it in every interaction she has with other people. As such, it’s caused a huge rift in her relationship with her mother, and any potential friendships she might have developed in her teens.
Sam, by contrast, is a lot more open – but he’s also emotionally stressed and doesn’t know how to deal with it. He dreams of becoming a documentarian but everything in his life is conspiring against him achieving that dream. (He’s also a great baker, which is one of my favourite aspects of his character!) But while he’s more open and easily likeable, he’s pushed away all the people in his life who could help him.
I loved the premise of Emergency Contact, and once Penny and Sam start sending each other text messages – usually over banal topics to begin with – we begin to learn who they really are alongside them. Their conversations – totally safe because they’re not speaking face to face – become deeper and more meaningful to them both and help them cope with their day-to-day issues.
It really is the modern day kind of romance for the socially awkward.
There were a few things I struggled with: it did take a while to get into the good stuff in the story (as mentioned above) and I was really frustrated with how Penny treated her mother, who might be horribly embarrassing but clearly loves her daughter dearly.
The highlights for me were Sam and Penny’s text messages, as well as the crafting of Penny’s story for her class, which was fascinating and creepy at the same time. I loved that Penny was a science-fiction fan, and that she made a lot of pop-cultural references the whole way through. That really helped me relate to her better.
Overall, this was a very fun, very cute contemporary read and I’m very grateful to Simon & Schuster for asking me to participate in this blog tour. Definitely check it out if you enjoy young adult contemporary books.