Title: Emergency Contact
Author: Mary H.K. Choi
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: March 27th 2018
“Smart and funny, with characters so real and vulnerable, you want to send them care packages. I loved this book.” —Rainbow Rowell
From debut author Mary H.K. Choi comes a compulsively readable novel that shows young love in all its awkward glory—perfect for fans of Eleanor & Park and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.
For Penny Lee high school was a total non-event. 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.
– Blurb courtesy of goodreads.com
My Thoughts On…
Penny can’t wait for the escape college life is offering her; away from the nonlife she is currently living where her only friend moved away and her boyfriend doesn’t know her, and away from her mother who Penny can’t relate to. Sam is down on his luck; living in an empty storeroom upstairs from the café where he works after breaking up with his cheating girlfriend. All he wants is to pass his online film course, but with no money and a dying laptop it’s hard
Emergency Contact made it onto my radar solely because of Marie and the incredible review she wrote for it. I had high hopes and I wasn’t let down. This was very much a character driven book, focusing on the issues Penny and Sam individually have which they struggle with together throughout the story. The first time Penny and Sam meet it’s a non-event, and it seems like Penny is destined to be nothing more than Sam’s niece’s college roommate.
When his ex comes back into Sam’s life to drop a bombshell on his shoulders it sends him spiralling. He starts having a panic attack and its Penny who finds him and makes sure he’s all right. Sam opens up to Penny in a way he hasn’t been able to with anyone else, and they become each other’s emergency contact, the person they can speak to when things get too much for them alone.
Through Penny and Sam’s journey in this book the author highlights a lot of important issues; poverty, unplanned pregnancy, mental health and sexual assault to name a few. As Penny and Sam speak, at first only through text messages, you get a feel for how they’re struggling on their own and how the lifeline they’ve found in each other is one that’s sorely needed.
Penny realised when she was younger that between her and her mother she was the responsible one, the ‘adult’, and this put a lot of weight on her shoulders. Penny sees university as an escape, the light at the end of the tunnel where she can escape her mother and their strange relationship. Despite the put-together exterior she has Penny is not as confident and sure as she seems, but she’s not afraid to call people out and speak her mind about whatever it is that comes to mind.
Sam is at a real low point when we meet him but he’s trying to make things better, to put his life back together again. He’s cut a lot of people out of his life, including his ex who, despite his feelings for her still, he realises wasn’t good for him. When Lorraine drops her bombshell it throws Sam, but also gives him a different perspective to look towards. Sam closes himself off from a lot of the people reaching out to him, wanting to seem put-together in their eyes and not a mess.
The relationship between Penny and Sam is the very definition of slow burn. When they first meet Penny is attracted to Sam but she barely speaks two words to him, and Sam is still hung up on his ex. It’s only when the two start texting back and forth, as they each share more and more of their life and their issues with the other, that you see their relationship grow. Both Penny and Sam confide in each other things they’ve never told anyone else.
For most of this book Penny and Sam’s dynamic is contained to their texts, while the trust and feelings and emotions are all growing it’s confined to a small bubble of them and their phones. Despite already having met face to face a couple of times both of them are hesitant about taking what they have developing through their texts outside into the real world.
The side relationships in this book were also amazing; especially the relationships both Sam and Penny have with their individual mothers. Penny has nothing in common with her mum, and almost seems to look down on her irresponsibility. She doesn’t seem to want anything to do with her mum now she’s in college but her mum is still reaching out to her. The relationship Sam has with his mother is somewhat darker; the two grew up in poverty and a lot of his childhood with his mother defines Sam’s journey in this book.
Emergency Contact definitely exceeded the expectations I had for it. On the surface it seems like it will be a sweet contemporary story focusing on Penny and Sam’s growing relationship, but the more you read the more you discover it’s so much more than that. The ending was left open, which I loved because there’s rarely a ‘happily ever after’ in real life, and this story felt very real to me.
What did you think of Emergency Contact? Was it a favourite of yours or could you just not get into the story? Let me know.