When Penny Lee heads to college in Austin, Texas, she can’t wait to leave her boring life and her high-maintenance mother behind and start a new life.
There she unexpectedly meets Sam, a 21-year-old who wants to be a movie director but is stuck working—and living—at a café.
Penny and Sam will get to know each other via text messages and rapidly become inseparable because life is way easier when you don’t actually have to hang out with each other.
GENRES: Young-Adult Contemporary, Romance
This book is a breath of fresh air.
I usually go to YA contemporary books during the spring and summer seasons, when the sun shining and the flowers blooming warm my cold heart enough so I can enjoy a cute and fluffy story.
This book, though. It breaks all the standards surrounding YA contemporary romances.
Forget the tall brawny guy with a sun-kissed complexion and a strong jawline. Meet Sam, an underweight 21-year-old emo with arms covered in tattoos.
Forget the slim blond girl that wears short shorts and miniskirts at all times and never have to worry about her thigh fat. Penny’s a Korean freshman in college with a head full of wild hair and a deep love for loose black clothing that hides her figure.
Emergency Contact is the story of two characters that are physically, psychologically and emotionally flawed. It is the story of very realistic human beings that meet, exchange their numbers under very awkward circumstances and learn to trust each other enough to share their deepest secrets.
I didn’t always like how Penny and Sam behaved and I sometimes struggled to understand them and their actions. But that’s how I love them. Flawed. Multidimensional. Undeniably human.
Penny is definitely one of the most fascinating literary figures I have ever encountered.
She often speaks her own language—figuratively—, act a bit weird in social situations and has a tendency to shut people out.
She is also utterly honest with herself and others—except when it comes to showing her truest feelings—and yet so secretive. Penny doesn’t like to reveal stuff about herself: she will turn the conversation so she doesn’t have to divulge a thing. What goes on in her head is an entirely other matter though. Her thoughts are so wholeheartedly honest that reading them sometimes feels like trespassing.
Penny often thinks she’s boring and invisible to others, but her train of thoughts is most entertaining. Being in her head feels somehow exhausting and refreshing at the same time. She overthinks everything but has such a sharp and unique mind that you can’t help but want to see and experience everything through her eyes.
“Sam was arranging dirty mugs on a tray. He had a cowlick on his head. An unruly curlicue that rose off his otherwise very cool hair. He probably hated it. Penny loved when that happened. When a single detail rebelled against the package.”
Penny is hard to sum up in a few words. She is independent, nerdy and candid. Beautifully awkward and eccentric.
Penny has such a singular personality. Nobody is exactly like her, though everybody can find a hint of their uniqueness in her.
I love him so much! I’ve always had a soft spot for those sweet messed-up guys in books and Sam is no exception! He’s had such a shitty life that all I want to do is give him a bear hug!
He’s had to deal with a nonexistent father, an alcoholic mother who opened and filled credit cards in his name—yes, that’s really messed up—and the most emotionally unstable and mean girlfriend you could imagine. Now Sam is on his own and his life is on pause. Since he can’t get a loan for college to pursue his dream of becoming a film director, thanks to his mom, he works full-time at a café and lives there too.
“At least there was coffee. Reliable, delicious, life-giving coffee”
So he’s a coffee addict. He works and lives in a coffee shop that he describes as homey with “creaking wood floors, large windows, built-in book-cases, and ratty sofas, with mismatched chairs”. Let’s not forget that he has wild dark hair and loves to bake cakes and pies. Can he be my husband already?
Sam is just the sweetest. And the most alluring.
I imagine him waking up in the morning with the most unruly and sexy hair. Then putting on pants and going downstairs bare chest to make himself an espresso and light a cigarette. I imagine him inhaling the smoke while looking out the window in a gloomy mood, his wild hair catching the first rays of sunlight…
Penny depicted the most vivid images of Sam and now I can perfectly picture him and his mannerism in my head.
The “getting to know a stranger through text messages” is pretty representative of nowadays’ dating/making friends methods. A ton of relationships actually starts over texts messages because it’s a convenient and not too frightening way to get to know someone.
What sets Sam and Penny apart is that they’re content with texting. They’re both happy to have a trusting friend to talk to and they don’t want to complicate things by hanging out. As you can guess, their relationship escalates at some point, but text messages play the major role here.
I really love their relationship! It is built on trust and deep understanding. It’s the kind of steady love that you can’t shake once it has taken root. Both their lives have been filled with unspeakable sadness and loneliness and their devotion to each other is what, for once, makes them feel right.
I’m rooting for them like crazy and please, Mary H.K. Choi, write a sequel set 15 years later when they’re married and have half-Korean, one-quarter German and one-quarter Polish babies! I could never get enough of their deep, sometimes nerdy, oftentimes sorrowful chatting.
There was something so authentic about Emergency Contact. Just read it. You will laugh. You will want to cry. Actually, you might cry over Sam and Penny’s fucked up lives. And you will read the last sentence of this book and think that finally the truest essence of a human being has been captured and translated into words.