Angst, Love, Texts, and Tattoos in Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

When I read through the excerpt for Emergency Contact back in February, I had a slight inkling indicating it would be well worth the wait. I was hooked, in particular, when I highlighted the opening line that really gets those of us living in the more warmer areas: When it came to perspiration, Penny had a problem. Not that she stank of BO or anything. It’s that from March to around October she was invariably damp. 

I do have to say, though, that upon starting the full book and realizing the aforementioned excerpt wasn’t from the first chapter was quite disappointing for me… I definitely had to rearrange my expectations for the following, as the shared excerpt is set way down the road from the opening storyline.

While readjusting, I also became agonizingly aware of how much time we spent on the many, many arbitrary scenes before Penny finally heads off to college: buying a new iPhone, arguing with her mother for flirting at the Apple store, packing up and heading on her drive to the University of Texas at Austin, actually arriving on campus, entering her shared dorm room, going into the bathroom, rearranging her toiletry bag… SO MANY DETAILS that I shouldn’t have to know; pages upon pages of description make my mind wander. In my eyes, all the aforementioned could have been summarized in a couple of pages, instead of dedicating four whole chapters to it.

There’s literally a scene at House Coffee that starts from Sam’s viewpoint, where Penny enters with her roommate and her roommate’s best friend, and then follows up exactly where we left off in Penny’s following chapter… Like, silent-scream having time jumps of over an hour is allowed…But I’m glad I pushed through the longish introduction (low-key because I had already prepared the header image for my review out of excitement and wasn’t gonna let it go to waste) because what unfolds is a coming-of-age tale that chronicles the intersecting lives of Penny Lee and Sam Becker, both not to be trifled with.

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.

But it’s the precise commentary invoked in this book that made me want to stick around. Penny’s character had the best lines, as well.

  • Sam is the essence of the tweet that goes “when i see a skinny white boy that looks like he hasn’t slept in years,” courtesy of Penny’s many favorable descriptions for his looks:

“Sam could have been in a band. A dreamy, brooding band. Penny thought cigarettes were pointless and smelled awful, but she imagined that Sam smoked and that he looked cool doing it.”

And this priceless line: “Sam had resting bitch face until he laughed.” 

Also, her appreciation for his many tattoos (sixteen in all) was beyond infectious: “Sam had somehow found the Perfect Shirt with the Perfect Collar, which was stretched out just enough to create this enticing peekaboo effect.”

I was practically craning my neck to get a better look.

  • Things only went up from here when Penny gets some much-needed characterization by introducing her love of writing. Similar to Fangirl, we get to sit in on her Fiction-Writing course, and it was fascinating through the various topics discussed. Her professor, J.A., really channeled in this quote:

“Penny had been writing all the time, for years now. She’d never stopped even if she showed no one. Stories, lists of ideas, and strange chunks of amusing dialogue that came to her while she ignored whatever else was going on in her actual life. She knew she was decent. Only she wanted more.”

  • The impeccable humor in here takes it to a whole other level. The messages exchanged between Sam and Penny that had me stifling a laugh more than once. Including the most memorable from Sam’s POV after he shoots Penny a mirror selfie, debating if he’s overdressed:

(His responses are on the right)

Emergency Contact 1-- bookspoils“Yah”

This is that more comical when you know the insider’s scoop on Penny’s stance with nudes (shudders @Mark) and her spot-on “Calm down,” poking fun at Sam’s earlier use of it, and him lightening the air by making a jab at his earlier panic attack. They’re catching feelings as they text, and I’m nothing if not here for it.

“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.”

And I nearly CHOKED on this conversation between Uncle Sam and Jude:

“The thing is,” she continued, “I’m also very perceptive. And I get now why you guys did what you did. Speaking of which, you’re both so lucky you have unlimited texting. You know she couldn’t even pee without taking her phone into the bathroom? I could hear her laughing in there.”
Jude smiled then.
“News flash,” she said. “At some point, your girlfriend might have been taking a dump while you were flirting with her.”

This book is TOO REAL.

  • On another note: Sam and Penny getting caught up in one another was entrancing and intoxicating to witness.

“Sam wanted to tell Penny everything. He wanted a record of his thoughts and feelings and stories to exist with her. Like a time capsule for this strange period of his life. With her, he felt less lonely. He hadn’t even realized he was lonely. He hadn’t let himself.”

  • More notable observations:

“Penny never looked the way she thought she did in her head, like how your recorded voice sounds positively vile when you hear it out loud.”

“Wow,” he said. “Sometimes talking to you is like accidentally clicking on a pop-up with autoplay video.”

Celeste’s (aka Penny’s mom) take on the signs of love:

“I know I love someone when I can’t remember what they look like in any real way. I can never seem to recall whether they’re handsome or ugly or if other people think they’re cute. All I know is that when I’m not with them and I think about them, where their face should be is this big cloud of good feelings and affection.”

Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 09.46.55

Although I did have minor hindrances to my reading experience, overall I’d conclude by saying that Emergency Contact features a realistic story that has emotional depth and ends on a hopeful note. (But I’m mad at myself for thinking the last chapter wasn’t the last and being once again shocked at seeing Acknowledgments at the head of the page…)

Lastly, I couldn’t have listened to a more fitting song than the one below, since Penny and Sam coincidentally share the same pair of beat-up black sneakers.

If you’re not sleepin’ with me, then I’ll get no sleep at all.

bookspoilsbookspoilsbookspoilsbookspoils star

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Emergency Contactjust click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

 

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