For Penny Lee, high school was a nonevent. She got decent grades, had a few friends, and even a boyfriend by senior year but basically she was invisible. Having just graduated from high school, she’s heading off to college in Austin, Texas, and she’s ready for it.
Sam has had a rougher time over the last few years. He grew up in a trailer park and had to bail when he caught his addict mom taking out credit cards in his name to buy more crap from the Home Shopping Network. He gets a job at a café whose owner is kind enough to let him crash on a mattress in a spare room upstairs. He wants to go to film school and become a great director but at the moment he has $17 in his checking account and his laptop is dying.
When Penny and Sam cross paths it’s not exactly a Hollywood meet cute: they’re both too socially awkward for that. But they exchange numbers and stay in touch—almost entirely by text message, a form that allows them to get to know each other while being witty and snarky and intimate without the uncomfortable weirdness of, you know, actually having to see each other in person.
I expected to like this book. Hell, a part of me thought I might even love it. But I didn’t expect to find an emotional connection to it so deep that it made me cry.
This book is the story of Penny and Sam, a woman who has just started at college and a man who works in a coffee shop. Their paths cross somewhat unexpectedly, and they find themselves drawn to one another but are, of course, too socially awkward to do anything about it. When Penny saves Sam from having a panic attack on the street, they become each other’s ’emergency contacts’, just, y’know, in case something happens.
You can see where this is going. Penny and Sam become texting buddies, talking about anything and everything all hours of the day and night. They become each other’s support through difficult stages in their lives – dealing with mom trouble, girl trouble, friend trouble and everything in between.
Loving someone was traumatizing.
I adored the messed up characters of Penny and Sam. This book is told in alternating POV between the two of them, and both of them leap off the page. They are both real, with real problems, friendships and relationships that made me sympathise with them. But the reason I fell in love with Penny and Sam so deeply was because they reminded me of my own relationship. A few months before me and my boyfriend started dating, we started texting. And just as Penny and Sam did, we would message at all hours about anything and everything. We would have deep conversations in the middle of the night. And we fell in love.
As this book went on, it reminded me more and more of me and Mark. And my connection to this book deepened. I saw myself on the page – I saw our sweet interactions and first kisses. I realised how grateful and lucky I am to have found my emergency contact.
On a less subjective note, this book dips between being quite slow (it’s definitely a slow-burn romance!) and really addictive. I did find it slow at first but this is definitely more of a character focused than plot focused book and is bound to be a little on the slow side! I really liked how this didn’t shy away from some of the difficulties young adults face, especially as they moved away from home and the relationship with their parents changed. There are many real life issues discussed through the main characters and side characters – nothing is shied away from. It is dark and depressing in places, but it is reflective of real life and real struggles.
You never knew what would happen to them out there in the world. Everything precious was also vulnerable.
I can totally understand why this book is not for some people. It is slow in parts and the characters can be unlikable. It’s also super dark in places and sometimes that’s not what people look for in fiction. But personally, I absolutely adored it. I admit that is partly because of how I related to it on a personal level, but I think that’s okay sometimes!
CW: rape, pregnancy, drug use, drinking, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, racism
5 out of 5 stars
May your shelves forever overflow with books! ☽
3 thoughts on “Review: Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi”
Wow, I was surprised to read this review! I read this book maybe a year or so ago and did not enjoy the experience at all! I am glad that I kept it, though…I have been reading more and more reviews that make me want to give it a try again. Nice review. I hope to have that connection like you did!
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I saw a couple of bad reviews for it and I can totally see where they were coming from! But maybe it would be worth giving it another go if you felt like you want to – I definitely enjoy books more or less depending on what’s going on in my life 🙂
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