by Mary H.K. Choi
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: March 27, 2018
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.
It wasn’t a romance; it was too perfect for that. With texts there were only the words and none of the awkwardness. They could get to know each other completely and get comfortable before they had to do anything unnecessarily overwhelming like look at each other’s eyeballs with their eyeballs.
I read a bunch of less than favorable reviews about this book but I had a recommendation from someone I trusted so I decided to give it a try. Was it perfect? No, certainly not. But I thought it was fun, real and actually one of the better YA contemporary novels that I’ve read in a while.
The thing that might (and I think ultimately did) turn people off of Emergency Contact is that our heroine, Penny, is not the most likable character. But that is actually what I appreciated about her. I’ll admit that I am pretty far removed from how 18 year old girls think these days BUT whether or not you think she accurately portrays a current young person, there was a sort of universal honestly to her that transcends generational trends. That is to say, I saw some of myself in her. (Did I just call myself unlikable??) Sure, she was a bit angsty but it is hard to fault Choi for that since young people ultimately are angsty…
Sam was adorable – if not a bit cookie cutter – and he brought the smiles that Penny couldn’t. I completely understood their relationship and I loved how it evolved. Choi did a really amazing job slowly building on their relationship without seeming too unrealistic.
Emergency Contact is not what I would call a “cutesy” YA contemporary romance. To me, that both helped and hurt it. I appreciate contemporary YA when it is a little grittier and realistic. But, there is a fine line one has to walk between the romance and the “lessons.” I think Choi did not quite pull off everything she meant to with regards to the more serious aspects of the novel.
I recommend this to people who think they might enjoy a little twist on the “You’ve Got Mail” trope & who think they might not take everything in this novel too seriously.
Penny thought of this Korean saying for when you really, really liked something. You’d say it ‘fit your heart exactly.’ Sam fit her heart exactly.