For What It's Worth

For What It's Worth

Thursday, April 19, 2018

review: emergency contact by mary h.k. choi



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 cafĂ© 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. ~
Goodreads

Source: A finished copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Review:

I feel like the blurb for Emergency Contact is kind of misleading. I was expecting a cute, possibly fluffy, novel between two awkward teens and an examination of social media and love in the digital age.

While, technically, that is what the book is about – there is so much more going on.

Penny longs to leave home for college and flee her MILF mom, who flirts with all the men and dresses in over-the-top, sexy clothes, trying to be young and hip. She's more friend than mom and Penny feels like she is the parent and needs a break from the constant worry and embarrassment.

Once at college, she meets her roommate, Jude, and her bestie Mallory. It goes ok, if not great, and they head to the local coffee shop where she meets Sam, Jude’s uncle from a now dissolved marriage.

Sam is distant with Jude but that doesn’t deter Mallory from making goo-goo eyes at him and Jude makes the girls swear to a pact not date him because he’s her uncle and going through a rough patch.

Sam is barely holding it together, working and living at the small coffee shop, while pining over his ex-girlfriend, Lorraine – aka: the love of his life. One day Lorraine drops a major bomb on Sam and he’s driven to a panic attack. Penny finds him almost unconscious on the ground. She helps him through the attack and they exchange phone #’s - hence the Emergency Contact - and strike up a texting friendship where they can connect with someone without all the baggage that comes with real life relationships.

Penny:
"So yeah, no IRL for me
Why break the fourth wall?"

Sam:
"No point 
We're perfect in here"

Both Sam and Penny have a dry sense of humor and a pessimistic view of life and they connect instantly. They talk about everything from Lorraine, to their parents and their dreams of being a documentary film maker (Sam) and a writer (Penny). Their texts, and then phone calls crackle with honesty and chemistry and I wish the book focused on that more or tied it together better, rather than taking so many detours.

The story is told in alternating pov’s and Penny’s has a tendency to meander before circling back to  the point she’s trying to make. Which in all fairness, is a character trait, observed by everyone else around her, but it still makes it difficult to get a handle on the story at times.

Sam and Penny seem (& think they are) smarter than everyone around them, yet don't understand simple concepts like irony or other common knowledge things that they have to look up - then judge others for not being as smart as they are. They are both pretentious and somehow still relatable which was a weird roller coaster to ride as a reader. They could be assholes but lovable assholes :-)

There are also a lot of things going on - keeping secrets from friends, difficult parental relationships, anxiety, financial issues, past trauma (TW for  ->sexual assault), and Lorraine popping in and out of Sam’s life, Sam making a film and Penny’s writing.

It is a lot, but it never feels like a lot because it’s spread out over the course of the novel. Once the second half of the book sheds a few of these issues, the book is a delight. It was raw and emotional as it dug deep into the things that frighten Penny and Sam the most.

Penny and her mom are particularly heartbreaking and real. I also I liked seeing Sam's pov of an issue that we don't always get to see from the guys side of things. Spoiler-> Lorraine's possible pregnancy and his fears vs excitement about  becoming a dad. <- End spoiler

Both Penny and Sam are complicated people struggling with feelings of anxiety and loneliness and I loved how it was kind of messy and ugly at times but they both grew - partly because of the support from each other - but also on their own. There was a romance but it was subtle.

So, while I struggled with parts of this book I ended up really enjoying it by the end.

I recommend this for readers looking for a quirky YA that bridges the gap between HS and college with slight romance but can handle moderate levels of angst.

28 comments:

  1. I do love lots of angst in my books, but I have this strong feeling that it'll be hard for me to get into this book. It sounds like a really honest book, but I'm not really in the mood for heartbreaking and deep themes right now. Maybe next time. Awesome review, Karen! ♥

    - Aimee @ Aimee, Always

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    1. It wasn't SUPER angsty because the plot does move along, rather than wallowing, but it was much darker than I was expecting. Not a feel good read - but not a total downer either.

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  2. I don't mind angst in books! I am really curious about this one. It sounds like, overall, it's a really good book and I do really appreciate stories that take place in the college years!

    -Lauren
    www.shootingstarsmag.net

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    1. This was a pretty realistic look at life IMO. Messy but life is messy...It was a bit sadder than I was expecting and it took me a little bit of time to adjust my expectations but I did end up liking it quite a bit.

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  3. I thought this was a cutesy romance book too, but wow, looks like it tackles lots of themes. I got a copy from somewhere so I'll definitely give it a try. Glad you enjoyed it in the end!

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    1. They are cute together but it's not cutesy, if you know what I mean. They have things they have to work through but help each other along.

      I'd love to hear what you think if you read it!

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  4. It starts out sounding like an amusing read but everything else you mentioned might drive me over the edge. Overstuffed books can drive me a little crazy. I'm glad you enjoyed it despite everything!

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    1. It has a lot going on but it does a good job of dispersing it. Some things are resolved early on so it's not like ALL THE THINGS happening only to be resolved int eh last 10 pages. But it is kind of a sadder type of story which I wasn't expecting.

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  5. I keep eyeing this, at the bookstore. I adore the cover, and I'm a sucker for text message romance, but I've read some reviews that make me think that's not what I'll be getting. It sounds like it ends before the reader knows how it works out?

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    1. They do text and the texts are the best part but that's not the whole story - in fact they meet a few times which totally threw me off. There's not anything wrong with that - but I think the summary is a bit misleading.

      And the end is more of a happy for now than happily ever after.

      I wasn't upset with the ending or wondering what happened but I would have liked a bit more - or an epilogue would have been great.

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  6. Huh, that's a lot going on. How old is this Sam character?

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    1. I can't remember exactly but early 20's? He's in college and a few years out of HS.

      It is a lot but it was spread out nicely so it wasn't 50 things going on at once.

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  7. OMG. Sam breaks my heart. :/ I loved this book, too but man, was I duped as well.

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    1. Yeah. I think his was a pov we don't see very often. He was a sad character but I really likes him.

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  8. Moderate levels of angst, oh you know me and angst, but then you make it sound really good, and yes I read the spoiler too

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    1. I think you would get irritated but it wasn't that over-the-top, unnecessary angst. They were just going through a lot of bad things.

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  9. I think this one sounds fun. I like quirky, and I have to find out if the they do break that IRL barrier.

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    1. I will not spoil lol It was definitely quirky!

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  10. I haven't read this author but this does sound like an interesting book. I'm interested to find out if they stay texting friends or get closer.

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    1. I think this is her debut novel. She's also a journalist on Vice.

      I felt like the blurb was a bit misleading on the texting thing but I won't spoil :-)

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  11. Loveable assholes sounds perfect, lol. I've seen this one around and was intrigued by the concept. Like you, I thought it would focus more on dating in the digital age, but it seems to be so much more than that. Your review mentioned a ton of issues and things that need to be resolved. I can't wait to read it!

    Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear?

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    1. I think it's more about forming connections than dating but really it's even bigger than that. It wasn't what I was expecting but I ended up liking it anyway.

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  12. So glad I saw your review, Karen, because this one has been on my radar since I first saw the cover and read the synopsis. And now I’m more interested than ever. I love how you said they’re both pretentious but still relatable. Love that. And it makes them sound like totally real/flawed characters. Great review!

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    1. If they were *just* pretentious I would have dnf'd but they were also really vulnerable characters who were seeking someone who would understand their quirky way of looking at things so it worked.

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  13. I really really love your book reviews, Karen. I feel like they offer so much more and really detail what parts you like the most, a bit about character development, some backstory, etc. They're just very well-rounded and I wanted to let you know that :) I can see how the Goodreads blurb might appear very different from the way you described this book. That said, and perhaps because it's a bit "heady," I'd like to give this one a go. I'm really not delving into YA like I was hoping to this year, but I like the digital age/text concept but also that this book has more going on than what is simply on the surface. Thank you for sharing, and hope you have a great weekend!

    XOXO

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    1. Thanks so much Charlotte. I really needed this comment today lol

      I didn't even think of this as YA when I was reading. It felt more NA with the adult subject matter and ages but this is the second book I've read with college students that was classified as YA. I believe it's because the characters are just transitioning from HS to college.

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  14. Liking the sound of this. I can so relate to the 'collision of unbearable awkwardness'.

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