PERMANENT RECORD by MARY HK CHOI
A REVIEW BY ALEXA DUNCAN
Welcome back to another New Release Friday, everyone. This week, I’m going to be reviewing Permanent Record by Mary HK Choi. You may recall that, in the past, I reviewed Choi’s debut novel, Emergency Contact. I liked that book well enough but it was certainly an acquired taste. The same sentiment can be applied to Permanent Record. It definitely isn’t a bad book, but it’s a book that won’t appeal to everyone. Here’s why…
Permanent Record follows our 20-year-old protagonist, Pablo Neruda Rind (seriously) as he works at a health food store and tries to figure out what he wants to do with his life. Enter Leanna Smart, twenty-two, a mega-popular superstar with a singing career and an acting career waiting in the wings. Pablo and Leanna meet one night during Pablo’s late shift at the health food store, and thus begins a relationship that threatens to derail Pablo’s entire life.
First of all, there’s a lot to love in Permanent Record. There’s an entire cast of fun characters for readers to get to know and Pablo’s voice is clear as a bell. Pablo’s voice, however, can easily make or break the book, depending on the person reading it. After having read Emergency Contact and now this, I’ve come to the realization that Choi’s writing isn’t for everyone. It will not appeal if you don’t like sarcasm and snark, pop culture references and exceedingly modern sensibilities. I didn’t mind it–Pablo’s very distinct voice–and I’d definitely read something by Choi again, but her distinctive style is something to keep in mind if you’re going to read one of her books.
Second potential issue is Leanna. We only ever see her through the eyes of Pablo and never get a true sense of what she wants out of life. She gives the impression of star tired of being a star. A jet-setting idol who is both relatable and untouchable. Again., I liked Lee (as she’s called in the book) but I didn’t know her. It would have been helpful to have her point of view in the book, but I understand why that wasn’t possible. This is, after all, Pablo’s story, and his story is one of depression, struggling to find one’s place in life, and anxiety over the future. I appreciated that Pablo struggles so much with money throughout the book and that his mental health deeply impacts his life. It made him feel more real that a lot of other main characters in YA.
Permanent Record has a wonderful wealth of diversity, bringing up important topics like racism, income inequality, how race affects every facet of one’s life, and so much more. I really appreciate the book for handling those issues well, and enjoyed my time with it. If this review sounds vague, it’s because I still haven’t figured out how I felt about this book. Mary HK Choi’s novels are always a breeze to read, filled with humor and and distinct voices. I especially loved Pablo’s dad. Perhaps a weird choice for my Favorite Character award, but he genuinely was my favorite.
If you’re looking for more mature YA mixed with a sharp sense of humor, you can check out our copy of Permanent Record from the Oreana library soon!