Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

Decoding young adults is not so mystifying, if you just text it in.

Song Pairing: “All of the Things (feat. Hyara)” by Sergioisdead  Listen Here / 2018 HELLO YELLOW REVIEWS Playlist

I like to read a little harder between the lines than is often necessary for pop fiction. Fresh out of my Masters, it still feels necessary to analyze word choice, character development and fluency. Sometimes I forget that reading for the sake of reading is still a valuable and attainable goal. Thanks goes to Emergency Contact for reminding me of that.

Penny is the Asian Emily the Strange we can all relate to and love. Sam is the tattooed and put-upon bad boy in recovery, with a manic pixie dream girl twist–he’s an artistic baker,finding joy in working with his hands. Penny’s new to college and befriends her room mate, Jude (a talkative social lubricant and my actual spirit animal) who introduces her to her Uncle-in-law, Sam. Sam’s in his early twenties, still figuring it out, still pining for his crazy-beautiful ex girlfriend Lorraine.When Penny and Sam meet, there are no fireworks, no eyes-meeting-across-a-crowded-room, instant connection feeling. But weeks later, when Penny saves Sam from a public panic attack, he puts her in his phone as his “Emergency Contact.” Then the text relationship starts.

I get that most people over the age of thirty won’t find pleasure or familiarity in this novel. There’s a lot of excessively young jargon, whole paragraphs in text speak, which is great–the less I understand some of these slang terms, the more accurate it probably is to the age group it’s actually attempting to reach. Let’s all acknowledge that language evolves, even if you don’t understand it.

I think most teens would find the characters’ plight interesting and relative to theirs. Penny and Sam both have complex relationships with their mothers, who are equal parts irresponsible and self-interested. This generational shift in approaches to motherhood would be a really interesting critical commentary, had Choi decided to push that angle even a touch further. I’m glad she didn’t, so I could just relax and turn the pages.

Engaging with other human beings through text is equally as intimate as talking on the phone with them, or sitting across from them in some cases. We divulge very buried truths through writing.With the social pressure of a physical presence removed, all that’s left is poetry and what we find in the lyrics of another person. That’s pretty intoxicating. Of course, it can also be an alluring falsehood–but so can physical intimacy. Sam and Penny’s textual relationship is adorable and engaging. I caught myself smiling several times while reading, which is exactly what you want in a pop fiction book.

Also, that book cover. All aspects of swoon-worthy. Thanks for the millennial pink.

You can check out Mary H.K. Choi on Vice as their current culture reporter, following the lives of teens and their passionate relationships with her phones.


Thanks goes to my local library for my copy of Emergency Contact. Remember, your library is your first and best source for free literature!

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