By: Mary H.K. Choi
Published Year: 2018
Summary (Provided by Goodreads): 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.
Considering that this book got added to my list based on the cover alone, I’d say the first impression was pretty solid. The cover came up on my Twitter feed and I of course, had to check it out. The summary matched my interests, so it made it to my TBR.
What I thought
Penny is in her first year of college in Austin. She is awkward and a bit of a loner and has issues with her mom. Sam is a 21 year old college dropout who is working and living at a coffee house. When Sam has a panic attack, Penny is the one who help him out and they become each other’s emergency contacts. From there, they build a friendship over text while sharing with each other their life struggles.
Honestly, neither of these characters are very likeable, but somehow this book just works. Penny has issues with just about everyone, so she doesn’t have any true friends. When she leaves for college she is horribly mean to her mom and leaves behind a boyfriend she doesn’t care about. Penny’s roommate is Sam’s niece which is how they initially meet. Sam is a recovering (sort of) alcoholic who is in a relationship with a horrible person.
Their relationship is interesting because neither of them feels as though they’re worthy of a good and true relationship of any kind. It sort of reminded me a bit of the Netflix series Love, but in a much more positive way. In Love, the two main characters are terrible people and the only reason I liked them together was because neither of them deserved anyone else. In Emergency Contact, Penny and Sam aren’t terrible people, they’re just both struggling and they deserve someone who understands them.
While I greatly enjoyed their texting as a main part of their relationship, the formatting of it bothered me. The chapters alternated between Penny and Sam’s point of views, but I was never quite sure which side of the messages indicated the speaker since it alternated. There were a few conversations that I didn’t’ know who was saying what until at least halfway through.
It also was a bit frustrating because the selling point of the book was about their texting relationship and it took a long time to get there. The first part of the book is a bit slow, with a lot of buildup to Penny and Sam meeting, but it’s worth the wait. Their banter is spot on and always fun. Plus the awkwardness is something that every teenager can relate to.
This book is definitely a modern young adult novel. It reminded me of a comment I read somewhere reminding authors that today’s teenagers grew up with cell phones and that texting and social media is a core part of their everyday lives. I think it’s hard to remember sometimes because a lot of YA authors are older and are writing about their past experiences and not the experiences of current teens. Choi did a fabulous job at making this book realistic and timely.