All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Blog Tour Review: Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

on January 17, 2019

Emergency Contact
Mary H.K. Choi
Simon & Schuster AUS
2019, 394p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

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.

For Penny Lee, high school was excruciating. Her one friend moved away to another school and she has been basically invisible ever since. College is the chance for a fresh start, to move away from this town and the people in it. To even move away from her mother, who is the sort of parent that makes Penny feel like it’s her that’s the parent and her mother that’s the child. Penny’s father disappeared many a year ago and it’s been the two of them all her life. For a while, Penny and her mother were best friends. But as she got older, Penny suddenly stopped seeing her mother’s quirky ways as something to admire in a friend and instead they became something to despair of in a parent. Moving away, even just 90 minutes, gives her the sort of freedom she craves to start over.

She meets Sam, a barista and pastry cook in a coffee shop, through her room mate. Sam is reeling from the break up of his volatile relationship with an instagram star and spends most of his nights not sleeping and his days making pastry creations to help keep him distracted. When Penny discovers Sam in a vulnerable position, they strike up a friendship through texting, becoming each other’s emotional support person.

I really like YA books that deal with the main character going off to college and experiencing that freedom from being at home for the first time. It’s such an interesting time – legally in most places, you’re an ‘adult’ but really there’s very little to differentiate from the previous few months. It’s that time to start making decisions for the future and to start enjoying some independence. For Penny, college is escape. She wants to get away from the mother she finds inappropriate, the boyfriend that she was inexplicably with. It’s a chance to reinvent herself but that’s easier said than done. Penny doesn’t seem to really warm to overtures of friendliness – she makes it pretty clear she thinks that Mallory, her room mate’s friend is ridiculous and half the time she shuns people. Penny seems to make friends by accident rather than design – like the boy from her writing class who she doesn’t really speak to until she runs into him somewhere else.

Sam is the only person that Penny seems to make a real effort with and perhaps that’s because most of that is done over the phone and not face to face. Their conversations are flowing and casual yet intimate and they find themselves confessing a lot of things to each other. Things that they don’t tell other people. I liked the time that was spent with them getting to know each other over these text messages (which progress to phone calls). They do develop a very strong connection which was nice to see, although Sam is still pretty messed up with his ex and being jerked around by her. He needs to learn how to start placing some distance between them and extract himself from that whole situation. I liked the attention to detail with Sam’s background and how it had shaped him as well.

I really enjoyed quite a lot about this but I do admit that Penny is a difficult character. She is quite judgemental and really abrasive and at times, it’s pretty easy to dislike her. There’s an abruptness to her at times and she reacts negatively almost immediately to pretty much everything. The scene for me where she goes to visit her mother because she thinks something has happened to her, but then doesn’t stay once she finds out it was a bit of a childish mishap, really stands out for me. I think that probably Penny’s life wasn’t easy in those teenage years – her mother seems quite vulnerable and a bit naive, she doesn’t seem to really understand that she’s also Penny’s parent as well as her friend, but there’s no doubt that she loves Penny quite a lot and I think Penny really is hurting her feelings quite badly after moving to the college. And here we are, we have reached the stage in my life where I identify with the parent, rather than the teen! Because teenagers suck sometimes (and I was one, I’m sure I was pretty damn awful to my parents for a few years there) and Penny is highly critical and judgemental of her mother for things that I think other people have put onto her. I understand that Penny probably doesn’t want to think of her (quite young) mother as a sexual being but shaming her, even internally, for the clothes she wears, her make up and her occasional flirting is a bit rough.

People are shitty and this book kind of encompasses the many ways in which people can be shitty. I think I wanted a bit more personal growth throughout the story for both Penny and Sam. Both of them needed a bit more time to mature and develop as individual adults and as a potential couple. The ending did feel a bit abrupt to me, like several steps were skipped.


Book #7 of 2019

This review is part of the Emergency Contact blog tour. Make sure you stop by here and check out the other blogs participating in the tour thanks to AusYABloggers & Simon & Schuster Australia.





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