#BlogTour – Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

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Hi folks!

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!

Cheers,

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.

Twitter: @ChoitotheWorld

Instagram: @ChoitotheWorld

Website: http://www.choitotheworld.com/

Review: Clancy of the Undertow

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Clancy Underhill is 16 years old, living in a tiny, dead end town. She doesn’t fit in – she’s not one of the popular kids, she likes science, and she’s gay (but not out). Life seems tough enough when Clancy’s father is involved with a road crash in which two popular local teens are killed. Clancy and her family find themselves the target of backlash from the town, although no charges have been laid against her father.

I requested this book from Netgalley entirely because of the title, a play on the famous Clancy of the Overflow by Banjo Patterson, which is one of my favourite bush poems. Little did I know at the time that the writer is a local Brisbane guy, who works at Avid Reader, a fabulous local indie book store.

Clancy was an absolute delight. Her character is smart and funny, and trying to find her way in the world in less than perfect circumstances. Currie captures her personality, her dilemmas and the tone of small town life perfectly, and fills the story out with some great characters. Clancy is infatuated by Sandra, girlfriend of the chief of the bogans who launches the campaign of vilification against Clancy’s father. Despite this, Sandra seems to choose this time to loom large in Clancy’s life. Sandra seems to pity Clancy for how she is being treated, but is also seriously annoyed with her boyfriend, who she is sure is cheating on her. Clancy has admired Sandra from afar and is very excited that she is now getting to spend time with her crush.

Nancy also comes into Clancy’s life during this troubling time. Nancy is new to town, and Clancy is certain that when Nancy realises she is not in the popular group, Nancy will ditch her. Nancy and Clancy’s eventual friendship is hard won, and this small step helps Clancy feel like less of the loser she is certain that she is.

Clancy of the Undertow is a story about friendship and family, and how important both are to making it through your teenage years.

5 out of 5 awkward teen moments.

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Love YA – Brisbane Writers Festival 2016

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The Brisbane Writers Festival is an annual event and it’s always pretty awesome. I try to make sure we get along to the Love YA portion of the festival, which has been happening for the last couple of years. This year the Aussie speakers were Jay Kristoff, Amie Kaufman, Jaclyn Moriarty, and Lee Battersby (who is technically an import, but we’ll have him.) Meg Rosoff and David Levithan were the international guests.

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As a huge fan of  Illuminae we were particularly excited to hear Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman speak, and they did not disappoint.

Kristoff’s session was ostensibly to promote his most recent release NevernightHe talked about the struggle to become a full time author, and how he would write in his lunch breaks and until 2 in the morning to write his first books. His move into the US market was intentional as the sheer difference in population numbers meant that he would pick up more readers (and therefore more cash) in the US market, and Australian publishers have a high respect for authors who have done well in the US market although the reverse isn’t true. If you are an aspiring author Kristoff has blogged about his journey breaking into the American market.

Kristoff also spoke passionately about the Federal government’s proposed change to the parallel import rues (meaning Australian publishers would have to compete with cheaply produced mass published paperbacks) and the fact that this would wipe out the Australian publishing industry within 5 years. (You can find out more about this here and sign a petition here.)

Nevernight stemmed from a conversation between two of Kristoff’s female friends about the “c” word and its misogynistic usage. He rewrote the  conversation to be between a girl and a boy and was then intrigued by the girls’s character and wanted to know more about her. This conversation is featured on the book and is one of our favourite moments in the story.)

Kristoff described Nevernight as a book that doesn’t want you to read it When asked why he would do that to himself and his readers, Kristoff answered that he was wanting to flex different muscles creatively. As he was working on three different projects, he was wanting to use different language and structure for Never night, and that is was designed for a reader ‘with a particular capability’.

Excitingly, Kristoff mentioned he had two more projects in the works – a new series called Lifel1k3 and a new series co-authored with Amie (you can find some more details here). I’m not sure how I’m going to last till 2018.

Kaufman, Battersby and Moriarty were on a panel hosted by the very capable and funny David Burton (whose book you can find here).

These three authors were a great combination and would riff off each other when answering their questions. Amie in particular was cracking jokes left and right, but Jaclyn’s understated, quiet and self deprecating humour was also absolutely delightful.

I think the way each author answered the first question (how would you survive the end of the world?) gives a good picture of each of them.  Kaufman responded that her plan was to die in the first wave – she knew she wouldn’t survive too long, she’s done a lot of research about these things, and she would rather go down immediately than be terrified for six months and still die horribly. Battersby observed that even if he was transported to another world, he would still be a slow moving, rotund middle aged guy with a broken back, so shambling about wouldn’t be much of a change of pace for him. Moriarty had interpreted the question completely differently and was planning for after it was all over – she would take her piano and cocoa beans. Both Kaufman and Battersby decided they would like to go to Moriarty’s apocalypse, especially if there was lounge music and chocolate.

They discussed their different approaches to research: Kaufman talked about the range of specialists that she calls on for advice – from a doctor, to a battleship designer to an astrophysicist PhD, who, it seems spends a lot of time being cranky at Hollywood. Battersby said he reads 600 – 700 books a year researching, which is great as it turns up interesting facts which are just waiting to become stories. Moriarty said that she based the alternate world of Cello on her imagination and called it Cello as she liked the word, and she had bought herself a cello on Ebay, practiced for an hour a day and the downstairs neighbour had moved out.

The final panel featured Meg Rosoff and David Levithan. Both authors discussed the fact that they hadn’t planned to be authors. Rosoff wrote her first book at 46, and Levithan had “fooled himself” into thinking  he wasn’t writing a novel when he started Boy Meets Boy. Levithan had started writing by creating short stories for his friends as Valentine’s Day gifts, which is a tradition he still follows (some of these are contained in How They Met and Other Stories ).

Both authors also talked about their experience having their books translated into film. Levithan said that a female author had told him to think of the film as a two hour commercial for the book, but he had been happy with the films that had resulted and felt lucky. Levithan also mentioned that he doesn’t visualise when he writes, which made the translation of book to film easier for him to deal with (unlike his co-author, Rachel Cohn, who it seems struggled a little with some of the portayals). Rosoff’s journey to film was a lot rougher, interrupted initially by her own bout with cancer and her film agent’s murder. It took ten years for the film to be completed and she was happy with the outcome. She is currently involved in the process of turning her new book Jonathon Unleashed into a film.

All of the authors were kind, modest and self deprecating. All stayed (Kristoff for a good couple of hours after his session) to sign books (multiple volumes in most instances) and chat with people.

I’m looking forward to next year!

 

Note:

There was also a panel for debut Aussie authors, which I haven’t covered – but let me know if you’d like more information on what happened there.