Cover of Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi: black line drawings of a girl and a guy, both with dark hair, looking at their phones and faced away from each other, against a pale pink background and with the title text in gold cursive font

About the Book

Title: Emergency Contact
Published: 2018
Swoonworthy Scale: 5

Cover Story: Pinterest Perfect
BFF Charm: Big Sister and (Almost) Be Mine
Talky Talk: Virtual Is Reality
Bonus Factors: Austin, Pursuing Dream Jobs, Tasty Business, Cool Mom
Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

Content Warning: There’s a scene with a character recounting their sexual assault.

Cover Story: Pinterest Perfect

This isn’t the #aesthetic that I typically go for, but ohgigue‘s illustration is kind of a gorgeous distillation of the novel. It’s even rose gold like Penny’s phone!

The Deal:

Penny’s so ready to get away from the nothingburger life that she’s leaving behind as she starts college. Sam can’t wait for the next stage of his life either, since the current one consists of being broke and living in a storage room above the cafe where he works. 

After a chance encounter brings them together, Penny and Sam keep in touch via text, confiding in each other in the safe and open way that strangers who never plan on hanging out IRL can. (… they don’t plan on hanging out IRL, right?) 

BFF Charm: Big Sister and (Almost) Be Mine

BFF Charm Big Sister with Clarissa from Clarissa Explains It All's face

Penny’s an organized introvert who likes to overprepare, so, uh, SAMESIES. But what makes her relatable also makes her frustrating, since we share a lot of the same flaws at that age, too. Thinking that you know better than everybody else? Lashing out at your well-meaning parent? OH, YES. And Penny—you’re judgy as heck, particularly when it comes to other women. Being interested in makeup and clothes doesn’t make someone less than; it just makes them interested in makeup and clothes. TRUST, your life’s going to be a lot better when you stop caring about what other people are doing with theirs.

BFF charm that says "true love"

Sam’s a tattooed hipster heartthrob who’s age appropriate for both Penny and us Olds, since he’s 21. (Although he’d do the occasional thing to remind me that, YUP, 21 is still very, very young.) And he’s a whiz in the kitchen, which nearly made me overlook him not being my type at all: an emoji snob who’s a smoker and hates musicals. So he’d basically be perfect except for mostly everything.

Swoonworthy Scale: 5

Neither Penny nor Sam are exactly unattached when they first meet; she technically still has a boyfriend back home, and he has unresolved drama with his ex. But their conversation flows so easily and they just get each other. And the narrative switch between their perspectives makes it especially fun to compare how they regard each other or the same situation.  

Talky Talk: Virtual Is Reality

Anyone whose relationships originate or are maintained digitally—so, anyone—will probably find some truth in Choi’s observations about text-based connections. Over in the real world, she turns her attention to issues like racial microaggressions, socioeconomic differences, and undocumented immigration with similar insight. 

Less perceptive, however, are small cringey moments like a male character joking about scaring off a hypothetical daughter’s suitors, or the repeated use of ‘spaz’ (which has a stronger connotation in British English, but is jarring nonetheless since it’s not as commonplace anymore). Not that these throwaway lines even mattered to the story, but they just completely and unnecessarily took me out of the book. (Different strokes, obvs, since not everyone’s going to share my same principles.)

Bonus Factor: Austin

Downtown Austin skyline

Hey, it’s the birthplace of FYA! And also, like, where Penny’s attending college at UT Austin. Although her lactose intolerance deprives her from one of the many highlights of my own Austin experience, because NOT ENOUGH QUESO. 

Bonus Factor: Pursuing Dream Jobs 

Jenna (Jennifer Garner) presents her idea for the magazine (13 Going on 30)

Penny’s majoring in creative writing, while Sam’s taking online film classes to refine his skills as a documentary filmmaker. The book follows the progress of their respective term assignments. (Yes, I just called homework a bonus factor. Which is pretty much what blogging as a hobby is, after all.)

Bonus Factor: Tasty Business

Assorted pastries

In addition to his filmmaking pursuits, Sam’s the manager and chef at House Coffee, with pastries being his specialty. Pro-tip: DO NOT READ WHILE HUNGRY.

Bonus Factor: Cool Mom 

Penny’s mom, Celeste, isn’t a regular mom; she’s a cool mom. (Think Lorelai Gilmore, but without as good of a relationship between mother and daughter.) Though they might not have much in common, Celeste tries her best—often misguidedly, but always well intended—to relate to a daughter who’s so different from her. (And I know I’m getting old when I sympathize more with the YA parents rather than the actual protagonists.)

Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

When this book and I were figuratively on the same page (since we were literally always on the same page, but you know what I mean), it understood me so well and shizz would get WAY TOO REAL. But the little incompatible things between us also built up; I held out hope that we’d see eye-to-eye eventually, but we still ended up butting heads. I won’t lose its number just yet, but I’m going to keep looking for an emergency contact. 

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. This review was originally posted on Kirkus Reviews in exchange for monetary compensation, which did not affect or influence my opinions. Emergency Contact is available now.

Mandy (she/her) lives in Edmonton, AB. When she’s not raiding the library for YA books, she enjoys eating ice cream (esp. in cold weather), learning fancy pole dance tricks, and stanning BTS. Mandy has been writing for FYA since 2012, and she oversaw all things FYA Book Club from 2013 to 2023.