EMERGENCY CONTACT by MARY H.K. CHOI (2018)
A REVIEW by ALEXA DUNCAN
Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi is a cool book. In almost every sense of the word. The author herself is cool (she wrote articles for Wired, GQ, and The Atlantic before stepping foot into the YA world). She was born in Seoul, South Korea, which, to many, is the epitome of cool right now. Her Twitter feed is witty without being condescending, and Emergency Contact reads much the same way.
However, in the interest of transparency, I don’t want to shower this book with praise without adding a caveat: Emergency Contact is not for everyone. It’s an acquired taste. Like cilantro or wine. You’ll either love it or you’ll hate it. I fell into the love category. For the most part. Though I can definitely see where people would hate it. Let me explain why…
Emergency Contact follows the story of Penelope Lee, eighteen, as she navigates her freshman year of college. One of the first things you should know about Penny is that she’s weird. Really weird. The second thing you should know about Penny is that she has a hot mom. Think “Stacy’s Mom.” Penny and her social media star of a mother don’t get along well. They’re diametrically opposed on nearly every level. Penny can’t wait to go to college and start her own life. She doesn’t anticipate it being so hard. While she struggles with her creative writing class and finds ways to get along with her bubbly roommate, Jude, Penny meets Sam. Sam is cool. Sam has tattoos and good hair and fits right in with Penny’s special brand of weirdness. The two form a relationship that unfolds mainly through text messages, and the rest of the story takes off from there.
Why the love-it-or-hate-it disclaimer at the beginning, then?
The writing. The writing in Emergency Contact has a certain humor about it that might not resonate with everyone. As I said before, Penny is weird. “Quirky” may be a better term, but nevertheless, I liked that she was weird. She makes jokes about strange things, thinks in paragraphs, and enjoys nothing more than being overly prepared for literally everything. Sam, whose point of view we also get in the book, is less weird, but compliments Penny in such a way that it’s easy to see why they might fall for one another.
Another caveat might be that not a lot happens in this book. It’s all about Penny and Sam going through their day to day lives and facing the struggles that come with that. Heavier topics like sexual assault are touched upon with both sensitivity and distance, so readers don’t feel too overwhelmed. If you like quirky YA stories with a bit of edge Emergency Contact may just be your next read. You’ll be able to pick up a copy of it at the Oreana Library here soon!