Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Summary: “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” (Goodreads).
It’s actually getting kind of exhausting to be reading solely mediocre books in 2020. I didn’t think I’d love Emergency Contact, but I kind of hoped it would be better than it ended up being. The problems really boil down to Mary H.K. Choi tackling too much and the awkward dialogue/problematic language use.
Some people may complain about the romance, but that was actually one of the few things I did enjoy, that managed to pull it up to three stars instead of something lower. I thought Sam and Penny were actually really cute together, even if their inability to converse easily in person was obnoxious. (It’s so difficult to develop something healthy out of texting and I do wish that was addressed more.)
Anywho, the problem ended up being that Choi skimmed the surface of so many topics, but never delved deep enough. She discusses racism, albeit briefly; she discusses alcoholism (AND SAYS SAM MIGHT EVEN BE ONE), yet doesn’t go into its effects; she talks about rape, but fails to acknowledge it until the last 50 pages. Overarching the plot is the relationship between Penny and her mom and Sam and his mom, but both are so loosely done and poorly resolved that it barely felt like the overarching theme. I just…I wanted more from this and I think that could have been achieved if Choi attempted to include less than she did.
The other issue I had was that the language this book used was…problematic to say the least. Some things come across rather insensitive, and I don’t know, some of it just rubbed me the wrong way. I didn’t love the dialogue; it felt awkward and forced, like Choi didn’t really understand teen-speak, but didn’t try hard to figure it out. I’ve never heard a single person used the word “ridic” before and nor do I ever want to.
I didn’t necessarily hate the time I spent reading this book. I thought Penny and Sam were adorable, and their “meet-cute” was very well done. I liked the relationship between Penny and her roommate, Jude, which felt very “typical” of college roommates (I can attest to this.) Jude is a much better person than Penny (or the novel, really) gives her credit for, though. I hated Mallory, but I think I was supposed to. I also liked the inclusion of creative writing and college life because both felt surprisingly accurate.
This wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either. Enter at your own risk, I guess.
(Also anyone who calls this YA is wrong. It’s 100% new adult. I don’t even care that it’s marketed as YA. This is not a coming of age story, it’s a coming of adult story.)