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.”

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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.

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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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Why I Fangirl over Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl (Spoilers: Levi)

If you’ve been following my reviews for a while now, you probably know by now that Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl is an all-time favorite of mine; I make sure to reread it every single year.

This time around, I decided to revisit the book through a different medium by checking out the audiobook for the first time, as I mention in the Parks and Rec book tag (where I feature Reagan for Ron Swanson’s question, yet somehow still wound up including my perfect sunflower and the pride of Arnold, otherwise known as Levi Stewart).

As I mention in the tag, I feel like even the audio-narrator is enjoying herself with Reagan’s character because I can always hear a hint of a smile upon reading her comically outrageous lines. They’re profound contributions to this world.

“There was just no fear in her. No hesitation. Talking to Reagan was like standing in front of an oncoming train.”

However, since I already uploaded an extensive review full of ravishing ravings for Fangirl in 2016 that you can check out here, I decided to twist things around for this reread and feature the list of everything important I noted during my reading experience (which I can visually represent with this very accurate gif below):

  • Starting with the most beloved cast of characters that always bring out the best feelings out of me, I made sure to take my sweet time with this audiobook, listening to a little at a time every other week or so. More specifically, Levi has me wrapped around his finger; he leaves me grinning from ear to ear so easily. And I have to elaborate by making a whole new point about this…
  • I felt like Jim Halpert, smiling into the camera, because every time Levi shows, I’d inevitably look into a nonexistent camera like I’m on The Office, while trying to hold off the wisp of a megawatt smile showing on my face. Like, get you a guy like Levi who goes out of his way in making sure you’re comfortable and showing signs that he genuinely likes you.

Just to give you a feel of what I’m talking about, here’s a couple of instances that made me smile uncontrollably in his presence:

    • Walking with Cather late at night from the library to make sure she gets back safe and sound to her dorm.

“Just Cather, huh?”
“Just Cath.”
“Did you get lost in the library?”
“No.”
“I always get lost in the library,” he said, “no matter how many times I go. In fact, I think I get lost there more, the more that I go. Like it’s getting to know me and revealing new passages.”
“You spend a lot of time in the library?”
“I do, actually.”
“How is that possible when you’re always in my room?”
“Where do you think I sleep?” he asked. And when she looked at him, he was grinning.”

This loving, loyal sunflower has the biggest smile and an even bigger heart. Which is why I was beyond elated when I read Rainbow’s comparing him to a golden retriever (“For the constant good-natured game of him.”). Mainly because of a Youtube comment I shared in my Parks and Rec tag that used exactly that phrase to describe the relationship unfolding between Andy Dwyer and April Ludgate: It’s like watching a grumpy cat and golden retriever get married. And it represented a lot of what Cath and Levi’s interaction held for me.

  • Plus, having them slowly bond over Cath’s “secret, dirty fanfiction” is something that will never grow old on me. I’m utterly amazed at how effortlessly Rainbow captures that intimate moment of growth from being acquaintances to friends to something more.

“It’s not dirty.”
“Read me some anyway.”
She let go of the pillow; he’d probably already filthed it beyond redemption.
“Why?”
“Because I’m curious,” he said. “And I like stories.”
“You just want to make fun of me.”
“I won’t,” he said. “I promise.”
“That’s what you and Reagan do when I’m not here, right? Make fun of me. Play with my commemorative busts. Do you have a stupid nickname for me?”
His eyes sparkled. “Cather.”
“I don’t exist to amuse you, you know.”
“One, are you sure? Because you do. And, two, we don’t make fun of you. Very much. Anymore. And, three…”
He was counting on his fingers, and his cheeks were twitching, and it was making Cath laugh.
“Three,” he said, “I won’t make fun of you, to anyone but you, from now on, if you’ll just once, right now, read me some of your fanfiction.”

I’m blinking hearts.Pretty sure that with that Levi has ruined all other guys for me. I mean, having someone’s defining feature be kindness above all is cathartic. It’s like I always make sure to ask myself if the guy in front of me lives up to Levi’s standards, and if he doesn’t, well…

  • The peak, of course, hits with getting to experience my all-time favorite scene on audio, featuring Cath reading The Outsiders to Levi through the night. Any book that has the characters bond by reading a book out loud to one another is the way to my heart, all thanks to Fangirl being the primary instigator. I have to say, though, that listening to this part was so worth the wait, since my eyes couldn’t skip ahead out of anticipation as usual. I could actually savor each line and unpack the hidden meaning within the words. I even listened to the ending with closed eyes, and it was so perfect because Cath was tired and her eyes were tired, and I felt it all.

“Cath exhaled. Then inhaled. Her chest was so tight, it hurt both ways. Levi shouldn’t get to make her feel this way—he shouldn’t even have access to her chest.”

They had me going to bed with a smile on my face. Madness…

I’m pretty sure I can quote the whole book on Levi’s sunny disposition if you’ll let me, so this is as good a stopping point as any on that… I’ll just end by mentioning that THEIR DOMESTIC SCENES TOGETHER ARE MY NICHE.

  • The level of detail we’re given about the characters hits the exact right spot for my nosy-self. Like, knowing that Reagan’s voice sounds similar to Kathleen Turner’s rasp is *kisses fingers like a satisfied chef* perfect. Oh, and the random fact that the seatbelt in Levi’s truck is a hassle to pull through is bliss to know. It’s these little things that make the characters seem that more real in the big picture.
  • Which leads me to discuss how much of a blast I had actually giving a listen to the Spotify playlists created by Rowell for both Cath and Levi. Now, I can actually know what songs she had in mind during the most iconic of scenes, such as the infamous Emergency Dance Party.
  • It’s frankly terrifying how much I get Cath. Every time I reread Fangirl, I either discover something new about myself or connect together pieces about myself through her. We have so many overlapping thoughts and actions, so I thought this was an incredibly well-done part of the story. I felt it most strongly the morning after the shared half-asleep kiss with Levi, when Cath tried to convince herself all the reasons they would never fit together.

“He’s different,” Cath said. “He’s older. He smokes. And he drinks. And he’s probably had sex. I mean, he looks like he has.”
Reagan raised her eyebrows like Cath was talking crazy. And Cath thought—not for the first time, but for the first time since last night—that Levi had probably had sex with Reagan.
“And he likes to be outside,” Cath said, just to change the subject. “And he likes animals. We don’t have anything in common.”
“You’re making him sound like he’s some rowdy mountain man who, like, smokes cigars and has sex with prostitutes.”
Cath laughed, despite herself. “Like a dangerous French fur trapper.”
“He’s just a guy,” Reagan said. “Of course he’s different from you. You’re never going to find a guy who’s exactly like you—first of all, because that guy never leaves his dorm room.…”

The last line is THE STRONGEST THING I’VE FELT IN MY LIFE. I’m beyond thankful that Cath has someone like Reagan to set her straight. Their blossoming friendship was one of the most unexpected to appear with their juxtaposing personalities, and yet it grew to be one of my favorite friendships to read. I was thunderstruck time and again by their casual daily interactions that brought about some of the most memorable lines of the book.

  • Speaking of, the amount of times I had to pause the audiobook to release my pent-up laughter just goes to show how utterly brilliant Rowell is at creating incomparable comical moments at the most unexpected times. I’ll be still laughing minutes after I read a certain phrase because it’s on a loop in my head. Like, I never get over this particular line Levi throws at Cath the first time they hang out in his room/attic:

“Read something else,” he whispered, kissing the skin below her ear.
Cath took a deep breath. “What?”
“Anything. More fanfiction, the soybean report … You’re like a tiger who loves Brahms—as long as you’re reading, you let me touch you.”

The “the soybean report” got me good. I’m so keen on knowing HOW Rainbow comes up with this stuff… What follows afterward between Cath and Levi is, of course, one of the best scenes for them as a couple, but I won’t bombard you with more, since I’m obviously a complete fool when it comes to these two together. (And it’s impossible to choose just one moment to capture.)Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 09.46.55With having read all of Rowell’s books (some even multiple times) I just have to say that she excels at making us EXPERIENCE a story instead of merely reading words. Fangirl explores the subtle real-life moments of young adulthood that are often forgotten about, and it makes her writing endlessly readable.

See you in my next reread of this book!

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