I’m very excited to be part of the Blog Tour for Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi. Thank you Simon & Schuster for the copy of the book and for letting me be involved!
Emergency Contact is told between the alternating points of view of Sam and Penny. Penny is 17 and is finally escaping from her home town (and more importantly, her mother) to go to college. Sam is in the middle of a bad patch in his life. He works in a cafe and sleeps in a room upstairs. He wants to be a director, but school and equipment are expensive.
Sam and Penny cross paths as Sam is having a panic attack, and they end up exchanging numbers and end up texting each other. They both enjoy the seeming “no strings attached” ability to share their thoughts and feelings about the world with each other without having to interact in meatspace.
I absolutely loved this book. Penny is smart and sassy and I love the way Choi presents her on the page with her lists and thoughts that go a million miles an hour. She lives in her head, and struggles to interact with people in the real world. She has a boyfriend who she can’t stand, and no one she seems to actually call a friend. She loves her mum, but feels like she will love her more when she doesn’t actually have to deal with her.
Sam is a bit of a mess. At 21 he’s on his own and doesn’t really know where to go. His ex girlfriend throws him an unexpected curveball which completely pushes him off balance. It’s at this point that he runs into Penny on the street who recognises him and helps him through his panic attack. They exchange phone numbers and she becomes his “emergency contact.”
There’s something about technological contact with humans that makes it much easier than communicating in person. Both Sam and Penny, who aren’t great with interpersonal contact, thrive when they don’t have to deal with the fleshy distractions of emotional signals and the pressure of “does this person like me?” Instead they chat about anything and everything, including the stuff they don’t normally talk about to others. And through this lack of pressure but with lots of intellectual intimacy the two start to fall for each other.
While this is going on, Penny is dealing with some people in meatspace – Jude (her room mate) and her friend Mallory, who both seem to like her for reasons she doesn’t understand. She even becomes friendly with a guy from her writing class. Despite her deepest misgivings, she is perfectly capable of interacting with others and being a good human.
Problematic mothers (and absent fathers) are a theme through the book. Penny is unspeakably angry at her mother through the book but she still loves her. Celeste seems like a bit of a disaster, but not as much of a disaster as Sam’s mum. Brandi Rose is a delight, having fed her night time shopping addiction by using credit cards she set up in Sam’s name, completely destroying his credit. The story that Penny works on for her writing class, based on a media story who were caught up with caring for their online child that their real life one died. (This actually happened, here’s an article about it.) It’s also telling that Penny struggles to tell the story as she can’t relate to the position of the parents.
The reason that Penny is angry at her mother comes out towards the end of the book and after this she seems more able to accept her relationships with others. She realises that she is not broken and is likeable, and that it’s also okay for her to like people in return.
There is some really great stuff in the book outside Penny and Sam’s relationship. This is an #ownvoices book (the author and Penny are both Korean/American) and there is discussion of racism and micro aggressions (with a really great discussion about writing and narrative voice). White people can be and are pretty clueless most of the time, and this is damaging and exhausting for people of colour. (This is a really great article for white folks to read – it is about diversity training in the workplace, but will make you think about how you can do better). The book also focuses on finding your voice and learning to be comfortable (and accepting) in and about yourself.
I’ve raved so much about this book that even Imogen has picked it up! Do yourself a favour and get on it.
Also, do yourself another favour and check out the Emergency Contact Blog Tour. There have been a bunch of people on the tour with great posts and blogs to explore. You can find them here. Definitely check out Paper Fury’s post – there’s giveaway and everything!
Mary H.K. Choi is a writer for The New York Times, GQ, Wired, and The Atlantic. She has written comics for Marvel and DC, as well as a collection of essays called Oh, Never Mind. She is the host of Hey, Cool Job!, a podcast about jobs, and is a culture correspondent for VICE News Tonight on HBO. Emergency Contact is her first novel. Mary grew up in Hong Kong and Texas and now lives in New York.