on March 27th 2018
Source: Publisher, Netgalley
Genres: Young Adult, Own Voices, Diversity, Contemporary, Romance
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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.
I would described Emergency Contact as the “h” in the word “hipster.” It is a hit or miss book and I would only recommend it to a specific niche of readers. Emergency Contact isn’t a light, fluffy rom-com. There are pretty intense elements of the story that gives it an almost bittersweet vibe to it. It’s an epitome of a slice-of-life drama: conversations and relationships explored realistically and quick, sharp dialogue. It’s not a book for everyone. It’s essentially a snapshot of human habits and feelings – the lives lived – through the third person POV’s of Penny and Sam. There is not exactly a focus on one thing, but important discussion is seen throughout.
The story is based on the concept of an “emergency contact,” an almost-stranger that the main characters can text for solace and peace in the midst of their otherwise complicated lives. Sam is Penny’s rommate’s ex-step-uncle. So it’s a loose connection, but they meet and Penny saves Sam after a particularly stressful panic attack on the streets. After the exchange of numbers, they find themselves in a habit of texting the other – about their problems, everyday lives, random facts about the other. It’s a very freeing space for two souls that are trying to find their paths in life.
I thought the author instilled very lovely descriptions of the futures the main characters are pursuing: film for Sam, writing for Penny. Penny is a Korean-American teen (#ownvoices read!) who is starting her first semester in University of Texas at Austin. Penny comes off as quiet at first, but she’s actually quite passionate, just extremely selective with what she chooses to reveal to people. She had to learn to grow up fast as a child as her mother Celeste is rather irresponsible and acts more like a BFF than a mom. Sam is a half-Polish, half-German (so he’s white) college drop-out who has financial troubles, as he’s poor and does not speak to his alcoholic mother who blames him for her failed marriage. He recently got out of a really bad break-up with a girl he is hung-up over. He is also a really good baker! The whole book is essentially their super slow-to-develop romance, with life bits coming in.
I’m grateful that you’re my emergency contact. Even if you’re super intense and talking to you late at night is as constructive as Web MDing a bunch of symptoms in the sense that I’m almost always convinced all roads lead to death, but I mean that in a good way. I hope you know that it’s my favorite.
There is also important dialogue about racism and accepting yourself that I enjoyed. The dialogue was down-to-earth and very fast to read. (Which is apt, as I have read that Choi wrote an article about teens and social media behaviors that this may be considered an extension of.) There is discussion on being poor and the socioeconomic imbalance, rape and consent, and finding an individual’s worth.
I haven’t ever seen a writer
A big deal writer
who looks like me
And sometimes when I write
I imagine the hero as white
How fucked is that
Some of the jokes didn’t really capture me. There were parts when I really appreciated the dialogue, and parts that I couldn’t find as charming. Penny and Sam are both flawed but certain parts of their characters remained unlikable in a way that I couldn’t appreciate, even at the end. Now looking back, I kind of appreciate that part to show their imperfections? They still should have been called out quite a few times. Some lines of dialogue or thought went towards dark humor, which I personally am not a fan of. I think the main thing to remember is that these lines are written in a truthful way that reflects reality.
Is there much of a story? Not really, besides the “emergency contact” element. Many things are left unresolved, as life often tends to do. Other important issues are given a page or less of a discussion and I’m not sure how I feel that. I guess ultimately, it fits the atmosphere of the book as a whole. I was not quite on-board with the romance itself. Both characters are immature at times, adding to the realistic elements of the story (as a college freshman, I see much of their behaviors in my acquaintances and I). The basis of the romance comes from the fact that they weren’t scared to be honest through text, since they hardly knew one another and didn’t have to meet in real life. Sam spent the majority of the book half in-love with his ex-girlfriend and that always puts me off in a romance book.
It’s hard for me to rate Emergency Contact. On one hand, it’s a refreshing slice-of-life story that captures a distinct atmosphere. The characters are flawed and brutally honest and down-to-earth. I think this story may have made a good film. On the other hand, some parts of the characters grated at me and I wasn’t quite onboard with the romance. Like I said, I would only recommend it to certain readers – especially readers who are okay with loose resolutions and unfinished plot elements. The slice-of-life genre specifically targets the more mundane aspects of reality and oftentimes doesn’t even have a conflict or exposition. This book encompasses all of these details. While the ending is open though, I found it quite satisfying. I wouldn’t deter readers from reading this, but they should be aware of these things before going into the book looking for something else.
Content Warning: rape, panic attack, racism
Rating: 3 out of 5
Thank you Netgalley and Simon Pulse for the review copy!