Book Review | Emergency Contact

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Title: Emergency Contact

Author: Mary H.K. Choi

Format: Paperback (owned)

Pages: 391

Categories: Contemporary, Coming of Age, Young Adult, Romance

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.

Emergency Contact is the first book from Mary H.K. Choi. I read Permanent Record first and then saw Emergency Contact on sale and decided to buy it. Don’t be fooled by this gorgeous pink and gold cover, this story gets deep into issues I wasn’t expecting.

Penny is an antisocial, snarky, judgmental freshman in college but underneath she’s got issues. She was raised in a single parent home, with a mom who is very popular in town – which Penny despises.

Sam has a past too, with an alcoholic mom who didn’t do much mothering. He’s barely making ends me, struggling to take college classes and survive while dealing with ex-girlfriend drama.

Penny and Sam become each other’s Emergency Contact in this coming of age story.

  • The cover is so pretty but the story itself has more going on beneath the surface.
  • Penny is an interesting character and even can be described as “unlikable” – but I think that’s what I liked about her! She’s snarky, judgmental about others and herself, and antisocial. But she also judges herself due to life experiences – a few of them traumatic. Penny doesn’t even feel like there is anything about her to like and that made me sad. I LOVE that she had an emergency pack on her at all times! And she is passionate about writing. When she gets into college and lives with a roommate, we see her open up little by little – she’s awkward and fakes it sometimes but that’s real.
  • Sam, on the other hand, I just wanted to reach in the book and help him out. He cries a lot, but it’s because he’s not in good shape, he had a horrible childhood, he’s addicted to his ex-girlfriend and maybe he’s an alcoholic too though he’s quit since he quit her. Sam is barely making it on his own but he doesn’t give up, because he finally is texting someone, his emergency contact, Penny. Sam has panic attacks, he’s depressed, he’s stressed but texting Penny is a lifeline for him.
  • Like her other book, Permanent Record, anxiety is present in Emergency Contact. We see Sam go through a panic attack to the point he thinks he is dying. I love that the author brings up anxiety in young people, especially in college aged students because they are adults but learning how to adult. And for kids like Sam who totally get off track and try to get back on…it’s hard.
  • Penny and Sam’s relationship is a slow burn romance. Clearly she’s crushing over him badly, but he has an ex-girlfriend that he’s trying to cut off ties with so they keep it safe with the texting friendship. I liked seeing how their relationship develops in a safe space and then finally taking the next step at the end.
  • Triggers: Rape, anxiety, panic attacks, toxic relationships, depression
  • I wish Sam could have reached out to Jude more since they are or was, semi-related. But I get it, that’s a complicated relationship too but I definitely felt for Jude. By the end of the book, I kind of want to know more of Jude’s story and hope she gets her own book.
  • The mom/daughter relationship really hit me in this book. Penny comes off like a brat to her mom, but it goes way back for Penny, she has abandonment issues! Mallory of all people gives her insight into moms and the way they act. I’m a mom now, my daughter is only three but that moment Celeste (Penny’s mom) says she was dreading the day her daughter would hate her…😞. Ugh, my fear.

I love this book because I think it’s characters and situations are so real and messy. I felt like I knew these people, and in my life yes I’ve known people just like them in identical situations! It shines a light on the anxiety those eighteen and over can feel as they become “adults” but still need help from their parents and for those who have no help? 😞 It’s a hard road. On top of that dealing with family problems, self-esteem issues, trauma and everything else? We ALL need an emergency contact. I’m so glad Penny and Sam had each other, in their safe spaces on their phones, even if it was just to say hi or just nonsense. Just knowing someone is there on the other side willing to respond sometimes feels like everything at that moment. I’m definitely glad I bought this one.

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