Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi: Book Review

📖 GenreRomance, New Adult, Contemporary
📃 Number of Pages394 pages
🪴 Average Goodreads Rating3.64 ⭐
🌻 My Rating4.5 ⭐

What’s Emergency Contact About? 

Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi is a contemporary novel about Penny and Sam as they become unlikely friends through a series of text messages. They meet through Penny’s new roommate, but they start interacting when Penny runs into Sam when he’s in the middle of a crisis. The story follows the two of them as they solve personal issues and slowly but surely fall in love. 

This book caught my attention purely thanks to its lovely cover. I mean, just look at it — granted, it looks better in hardback, with gold foil and all the pizazz but I love it all the same in paperback. Yet what I loved even more is the story itself.

One of the biggest standouts of Emergency Contact are its characters. Penny and Sam absolutely shine in the spotlight, and they’re both fully fleshed out as individuals. Penny is judgemental and a bit odd. She’s bad at relationships with other people, and especially her mom who she sees as juvenile and embarrassing. She’s into horror and wants to be a writer. 

Sam, on the other hand, never had luck in life. He has problems with alcohol at only twenty-one, works at a coffee shop where the owner lets him bake and live, and his toxic ex-girlfriend just told him she’s pregnant. So, his life is pretty much spiraling, and he’s lost. He wants to be a documentary director, but has no money for school or equipment. 

Penny and Sam are introduced at first by Penny’s roommate whose grandfather used to date Sam’s mom. She insists he’s her uncle and wants to spend time with him, so she takes Penny with her to Sam’s coffee shop. And while they like each other a bit on that first meeting, it isn’t until Penny runs into Sam while he’s having a panic attack that they become friends. 

“I like knowing that you exist. It doesn’t make me feel any less lonely, because life is lonely, but it makes me feel a lot less alone.”

Their relationship is entirely text-based for a large portion of this novel, which allows both of them to resolve their individual issues while having the other’s support. They become each other’s sounding board, confidant, and the person they would call in case of emergency (hence the title). But their texts are also sometimes ridiculous and funny. 

“It wasn’t a romance; it was too perfect for that. With texts there were only the words and none of the awkwardness. They could get to know each other completely and get comfortable before they had to do anything unnecessarily overwhelming like look at each other’s eyeballs with their eyeballs.”

The prose in Emergency Contact is unobtrusive. The author stays completely out of it and allows Penny and Sam to tell their stories in their own way, which helps you get immersed into their worlds. And I absolutely love epistolary novels — if you do too, then this is the perfect book for you. 

At times, though, their inner thoughts can get a bit juvenile, and the book itself does feel that way at times. It sort of makes sense with their age. It didn’t bother me on my first read, but I have read it a few times since (it’s a comfort book to me) and it got a bit jarring after a while. Maybe it’s just that I’m older so their problems and thoughts are more distant to me now. 

I also wasn’t the biggest fan of Penny’s story. Don’t get me wrong, it was an interesting concept, but I feel like it took up too much space in the overall story. I did like Penny’s journey as a writer, though. Her teacher’s thoughts on writing and Penny’s own reflections are insightful, especially if you like to write stories too (and I do). 

“Penny thought of this Korean saying for when you really, really liked something. You’d say it ‘fit your heart exactly.’ Sam fit her heart exactly.”

Another thing that kind of bothered me was the ending. It felt a bit anticlimactic with all the build-up, and I would have appreciated something a bit more dramatic. However, the awkwardness and sweetness were realistic to how these two characters would speak to each other. 

Despite all of this, I loved watching these two fall in love. It isn’t sudden, and it doesn’t happen easily. Sam is still hung up on his girlfriend for a lot of the novel, and Penny has her own issues, but the relationship they build is so sweet, so based on trust and mutual respect that you just can’t wait for them to realize that they’re perfect for each other. 

“I want to be with someone I can talk to. I want to be with someone who automatically has a fat folder on me. Someone who feels lucky when I tell them the most unflattering, scary stuff.”

If you’re in the mood for a sweet and emotional romance that isn’t quite so romance-centered, go for Emergency Contact. I promise, you won’t regret it. 

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