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Emergency Contact

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For Penny Lee high school was a total nonevent. Her friends were okay, her grades were fine, and while she somehow managed to land a boyfriend, he doesn’t actually know anything about her. When Penny heads to college in Austin, Texas, to learn how to become a writer, it’s seventy-nine miles and a zillion light years away from everything she can’t wait to leave behind.

Sam’s stuck. Literally, figuratively, emotionally, financially. He works at a café and sleeps there too, on a mattress on the floor of an empty storage room upstairs. He knows that this is the god-awful chapter of his life that will serve as inspiration for when he’s a famous movie director but right this second the seventeen bucks in his checking account and his dying laptop are really testing him.

When Sam and Penny cross paths it’s less meet-cute and more a collision of unbearable awkwardness. Still, they swap numbers and stay in touch—via text—and soon become digitally inseparable, sharing their deepest anxieties and secret dreams without the humiliating weirdness of having to see each other.

394 pages, Hardcover

First published March 27, 2018

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About the author

Mary H.K. Choi

24 books2,404 followers
Mary H.K. Choi is a Korean-American author, editor, television and print journalist. She is the author of young adult novel Emergency Contact (2018). She is the culture correspondent on Vice News Tonight on HBO and was previously a columnist at Wired and Allure magazines as well as a freelance writer. She attended a large public high school in a suburb of San Antonio, then college at the University of Texas at Austin, where she majored in Textile and Apparel.

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Profile Image for emma.
1,823 reviews48.6k followers
March 24, 2023
Okay just hang on one quick second we’re going to talk about the actual, you know, contents of this book but first: are you seeing this cover. My god.

I was killing several hours in a Barnes & Noble (not because I was waiting for something or anything, but because one of my favorite activities is “residing in a bookstore for long enough that I am forced to wonder whether I should update my listed address in several databases/paperworks”) when, like an oasis, or a dusty pink angel, this book appeared. I read the inside of the dust jacket, said “yeah ok maybe” (by which I mean I saw “contemporary that involves text messages” and did everything short of performing an original song entitled “Hell Yes, This Is A Very Good Thing”), and wrote the title down in my notes app.

Then I binge read the hell out of it.


This book is, like, made up of my weaknesses. Everything I love. My fatal flaws. It is ideal and adorable and I love it. These perfect elements include:

ONE: It has a beautiful cover. Just look at it. (And by “look at it,” I mean pull a me and gaze at it lovingly for several minutes.)

TWO: It’s a contemporary. This is not necessarily something I like, but boy is it something I read a lot of.

THREE: Neverending darkness. Do not let the pink-and-gold color scheme and the calligraphy fool you: this is the darkest contemporary I have read in a long time. The characters are veeeerrrrryyyyy bitter and judgmental and hateful. This is 100% suffering and black sweaters and edginess. But in a good way. (If you’re me.)

FOUR: Full background characters. Most contemporaries manage to have exactly one (1) best friend character, because authors are like, Realistic worldbuilding and characters with real, populated lives = too haaaaaaard, presumably. But even the background characters of this book who aren’t mentioned very much feel like real people! Pretty rad.

FIVE: There are text messages in this!!! I love unique formatting in any incarnation, but man, I really love books with text messages in them. I don’t know what it is! Even when it seems like every writer either writes texting a) like it’s being written by a character using a pink Motorola Razr in a TV show from 2004 (“OMG u r a totl btch i h8 u”) or b) like it’s a formal letter from a founding father (“Dearest Abigail, Hast thou finished the math homework”) - even in those situations, I love it. But these texts were actually realistic AND fun??

Which brings me to the next section of this review: things it turns out I like but I didn’t even know I liked, because since when are they even an option?

ONE: Really pop culture-y dialogue/thinking, but not in a cringey way. In the past when contemporaries have mentioned anything internet-related, part of my soul has shriveled up in a perma-cringe and died. But in this book, there was a lot of pop culture sh*t, and it...worked? Which brings me to my next point.

TWO: The coolest author on the FACE OF THE EARTH. Seriously. Google Mary H.K. Choi. You will come out with a crush and an appreciation for Desus & Mero. (SHE WAS ON DESUS & MERO. What.)

THREE: Fantastic main characters? The guy main character, Sam, is objectively hot. Which I don’t think I have everrr said about a character in book, because kill me first that’s embarrassing, but I’m not sorry this time. It is too true. (Insert that god-awful John Green quote about not denying oneself the pleasure of telling the truth, or whatever.) The girl main character, Penny, is adorable. It’s all great.

FOUR: Also great character names? I mention this in my barely-a-pre-review below, but whoa. Very cool names. Penny. Sam (probably my favorite name - I have a complex). Jude. Mallory. Celeste. Great stuff.

Tragically, however, this is not a perfect book. Which makes sense, if you think about it, because so much of it feels like Mary H.K. Choi scooped out my brain and fashioned it into a tidy little package with aesthetically pleasing wrapping (have I mentioned enough how gorgeous this cover is?) and the contents of my brain are far from perfect, my dear boy.

There are some things I didn’t super-love about this book. The relationships felt unbalanced. The timeline was confusing or perhaps off. Penny’s mom felt flat (which is insane because literally no one in the entire book was anything less than the fullest, realest bundle of joy sadness and suffering you’ve ever encountered). Sometimes the judginess was overwhelming. There were lines that could be read generously, or could be offensive. (I chose generously, because I am overwhelmingly kind and sweet as everyone knows, and definitely not because I’m in a perpetual beggars-can’t-be-choosers situation with the entire contemporary genre.)

But what I get the sense is the major issue with this book is something I didn’t see as a problem at all: the flawed characters.

Sam and Penny are not easy to like. They’re prickly and judgy and pretentious. They’re mean to their moms and don’t reciprocate the care of their friends and treat people, in the depths of their internal monologues, as just background figures in their lives.

I understand the compulsion to just throw the whole thing away. To say, These characters are clearly unlikable and thus this book is toxic/problematic/just generally unpleasant and we should toss the whole thing into boiling lava, or a trash can if boiling lava proves too hard to find. I do get that. It’s easier to do.

Really, like the characters that populate it, Emergency Contact is a flawed book. It is prickly and difficult to reckon with and imperfect.

But I think that’s what makes people worth liking, and knowing - and the same goes for making books worth reading.

Bottom line: We love discovering new auto-buy authors through diverse fun beautiful bitter contemporaries!!

Note: Just to clarify, I am 100% not trying to say that anyone is wrong for not liking this book. I know that unlikable/flawed characters are outside of some people’s reading preferences, and by all means, if that’s you, steer clear of this book and feel justified in that. I am simply saying that those are not my preferences, and I f*cking love this book. Also if you DNFed it, you may have missed a facet of Penny’s backstory that I think explains a lot.


hey just so everyone knows: i reread this book and it still f*cking rules

also i promise and swear that i have a full review of this written + ready to go i just...haven't posted it yet. for reasons unknown

4.5 stars instead of 4!!!


this author is so cool that this book is extremely cool by default, and i think also i am incrementally cooler for having read it. like it's so cool that i a) felt not cool enough, at several points, to be reading it and b) am significantly more cool for doing so.


this book was not perfect, but also it's good enough to get a straight-to-best-contemporaries-shelf-do-not-pass-go-do-not-collect-$200 card, and also now the author is on my auto buy authors shelf. after just one book! i'm like, blushing, writing this. i have a crush on Mary H.K. Choi and i have a crush on Emergency Contact and on penny and sam and on naming characters so well (penny! sam! jude! mallory! celeste! lorraine! andy! okay scratch that last one kinda).

okay i have to cut down on the stream-of-consciousness vibe, at least slightly, so i can tell you guys why this book is so rad.

wait i didn't think i was going to write a full review of this book but clearly i'm going to?? okay. be back with one later i guess

review to come (this is the me-est thing ever what is happening)
Profile Image for Sabaa Tahir.
Author 27 books31.8k followers
April 10, 2018
My absolute favorite feel-good romantic contemp of the year, I'm calling it now. JUST GO READ IT OK
Profile Image for ❄️BooksofRadiance❄️.
603 reviews734 followers
December 10, 2018
If ever there was a book that truly embodies the term ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ it is this one.

Before I get into it, let me just tell you that the book starts off with the mc slut-shaming her mother in front of all her friends.
There. That should give you just the right amount of idea as to what kinda trash this is...

I feel so cheated. And exhausted with anger.

Finishing this book was a struggle. I won’t lie. I had somewhat of a sneaking suspicion that it was going to piss me off but ever the hopeful, I went for it anyway.
I hold no one but myself responsible.

Let it be known that I tried. I finished the whole damn book. I deserve a fucking medal.

There is SO MUCH wrong with this book. So so so much wrong that I don’t even know where to begin.
I am also beyond angry that a book with these many problematic things passed through the editing stage.
I annotated everything that I felt was a giant red flag and problematic so much so that I actually ran out of index tabs.

This book was offensive on so many levels and the characters had zero redeeming qualities. ZERO.
If I get into it (the characters in particular) I’ll be here all night.
I am truly restraining myself here and saying only what I need to say because I sincerely don’t have the mental capacity to revisit all my notes and write everything that SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN WRITTEN. I want to forget I ever read it.
Finishing it was a miracle alone.
757 reviews2,346 followers
May 20, 2018
if you see some crazy bitch screaming, "WHAT A DISSAPOINTMENT" while she bangs two pots together, walking down your street, it's PROBABLY ME.

akdgajhds i'm so mad because the cover of this book is SO gorgeous. if i was ever to marry a book cover, hands down, it's THIS ONE!!! like, it's just so beautiful??? sadly, the pretty cover is the only good thing about this book.

what's it about??
Penny Lee wants a fresh start at her University and have a decent life, away from her MILF and embarrassing!! mom!! Sam lives in an empty storage room on the second floor of the cafe he works in. he wants to be a movie director once day, but doesn't have enough money to graduate college and pursue that dream. these two meet one day, exchange numbers and become text buddies!!

i'm going to dive right into it: i really didn't like Penny's character. she's such a judgmental and unlikable character. she constantly judges people and reduces them down to stereotypes and then gets mad when people reduce her (being Asian) down to a stereotype?? well, i do understand why she'd get mad and i love how she spoke against the stereotypes, but that doesn't give her the right to do the same to other people!! she assumes for a second that Sam is gay because he has an espresso cup in his hand. W H Y

she's also constantly embarrassed because her mom's a MILF and doesn't wear clothes a "regular mom" should (it was something along the lines of that, i'm not exactly sure because i forgot, it's been a few days!) she also looks down upon her mother for flirting with men. a woman can do and wear whatever she wants?? why are we still fucking judging?? can a woman not flirt and enjoy her life?? one of the characters Mallory also showed some cleavage and Sam thought it was a cry for attention!!! because clearly, you want attention if you're showing your cleavage!!! disgusting. and this is just seen as okay in this book, yikes.

moving on to the "romance" which is so bleh. their texts had no chemistry and i didn't care at all for their relationship because it was so underdeveloped. their romance felt so forced and unwanted.

also, this was so boring!!! it's slow-paced and was really uninteresting for me and i lowkey skimmed the last 40% of this book. i didn't even bother reading the last few chapters, that's how irrelevant this book is.

THE ONLY good thing about this book is the diversity! Penny is (i think) half Korean and I think Sam was a POC as well.

2.5 stars.
Profile Image for jasmine.
56 reviews36 followers
Want to read
July 20, 2018
boi this guy's hair kinda looks like Kaz Brekker's hair

i've been reading too much Six of Crows omg

jk you can never read too much Six of Crows :)

how did we somehow get from the topic of this book to Six of Crows

i don't even know

edit: i actually stILl haven't read this yet, and so i don't really know what i'm doing with my life because it seems amazing and the cover's truly beautiful but i just wanted to update everyone in case ya'all were wondering why i haven't read this book :// i'Ll gEt tO iT sOoN dO nOt wORry (actually, i'm a mood reader, so idk if it'll happen sOon, per se)
Profile Image for Chelsea (chelseadolling reads).
1,478 reviews19.3k followers
June 26, 2018
Uhm wow so I really fucking liked this? This book definitely isn't without its problems but the characters in this were some of the most realistic characters I’ve ever read and it honestly just really worked for me. I’m a big fan.
Profile Image for jessica.
2,535 reviews32.6k followers
December 11, 2018
this book summed up in two words - triggering and problematic.

as someone who has a strictly textual friendship with another person, i relate with penny more than any other main character i have read about in quite some time. i understand her relief at having someone she can talk to without any fear or boundaries. i know exactly how penny feels when she comes to rely on those texts to get her through the day. and the moment when she realises she wants and needs more… my gosh, i felt that so deeply. so that aspect of the book, the forming a relationship with someone you never see, invoked a surprisingly emotional response from me.

in regards to its problems, well goodness. there are many. penny is a very judgemental person. and it goes beyond being a flawed character and straight into being unlikable. there is a lot of shaming, assumptions, stereotyping, sexism, and racist comments in this book. its extremely disheartening. not to mention the writing style is sooo bizarre, and even disingenuous at times. its as if the author is trying too hard to reach their target audience, which results in very awkward flow and dialogue.

and so rating this is a difficult decision because, even though i connect and relate with this story on a highly personal level, there are many flaws which are rather difficult to ignore. so im somewhere down the middle with this one.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for chloe.
242 reviews28.3k followers
December 11, 2019
So I loved this. It definitely isn't flawless and there were quite a few lines that I hated but I loved how flawed and real the characters were, the relationship that is built, the anxiety rep, the themes that this book tackles and more.

CW: racism, alcoholism, toxic relationships, rape, cheating, depression, anxiety, panic attacks
Profile Image for Cesar.
355 reviews235 followers
November 4, 2018
2 stars.

Strap in, folks, because I am not happy with this book. I'd much rather chuck it across the room. It failed on so many levels. I'd figured this would be a nice, decent story of two lost people connecting while trying to navigate through life. Sadly, none of that happened. Which made me salty. Saltier than the ocean.


I really wanted to like this, I really did. Even after I knew this wouldn't be a good book, my dumbass kept looking for signs of redemption. Surprise surprise, there wasn't. My experience was not a positive one and I have a list of grievances of why I didn't like Emergency Contact.

Penny Lee wants to leave her life behind her and have a somewhat fresh new start at University. Learn a few things, think about her life before university, and maybe have a decent life. Sam doesn't have the best of luck as he lives at a cafe shop in an empty storage room upstairs. He wants to be a movie director someday, but it doesn't seem like it'll happen. The two meet up eventually and form a friendship through text messages. Their meeting is awkward at first, but they're more comfortable with texts.

Now, you might think this is a cute love story with text messages. Except it isn't. Rather, the "relationship" wasn't fleshed out enough to even be a friendship, let alone a romantic relationship. Combine that with an insufferable MC, a plot that doesn't go anywhere, and crappy writing, you get a crappy book.

This book is blurbed as "smart and funny." Except it isn't smart or funny. It's blah and meh. I have so many issues with this book, I honestly don't know how I was able to finish it. But I did and I deserve a medal for it.

The Bad

The writing
The one thing you will notice about this book is the writing. Penny has a no-nonsense attitude about certain things and I figured she would be that snarky character that is fun. Except the writing didn't fit Penny at all. Instead, it made her more insufferable. I get that she's 18 and going to college, but the things she says and thinks aren't that of an 18-year-old person. Plus Mary's writing didn't help at all.


Having a MILF for a mom was garbage.

Penny never had a cigarette in her life, and if they did smoke together Penny would probably have a coughing fit that lasted forever and ended on an audible fart.

She was smitten mitten kittens.

Plus you'd enjoy it. Sam was a dynamite maker-outer. <=== Is this even a real word??

Knowing that your only computer was about to crap out on you despite not having nearly enough money to replace it can only be described as horror. Horror and terror. Torror.

Who thinks this?!?!?! Seriously, what kind of teenager thinks this?!?!?!

I'm 22 and even though it's been 4 years since I graduated from high school, I know that many kids who are around Penny's age don't think or say things like that. It's painfully obvious that this is a book written by an adult who has no idea what goes through the minds of teenagers/young adults.


Penny tries to be this sassy sauce character but her dialogue comes off as forced.

The main character
I did not like Penny at all whatsoever. She's insufferable, selfish, annoying, has a holier than thou attitude, and constantly judges people way too quickly. I get that her life growing up wasn't peachy, and I do like characters who are snarky. But Penny's attitude was neither funny or snarky. She came off as unlikable after about 20 pages. She does get a backstory about why she's like this, but I still don't like her. I wanted to shake her so many times for being just plain judgemental. She irritated me so fucking much. 🤬🤬


Sam... I have no feelings. I don't hate him but I don't like him. He does have his own story, but I didn't connect with him at all. If I had to choose, I would pick Sam as a decent character because he does have dreams and given his backstory, I did sympathize with him more. But do I love him? No.

The only good character is Jude. She had the guts to stand up to Penny and straight up tells her how much of a dick she is. Jude > Penny any day.

The plot for this one was quite disjointed. The main plot is of how Penny and Sam form a friendship through texts along with their personal lives. That's dandy and all, but at times I didn't know which took more space and which took a backseat.

I'm gonna be honest, the romance here is basically non-existent. There is lust (mainly from Penny) but that doesn't mean there is genuine love. It's tip-toed around that you could forget that this is a love story. There wasn't that spark that ignited between them.

Little side note here: The gold foil on the cover was coming off and got on my hands. Not a glaring issue with the book, just wish most of the foil was more permanent on books and doesn't come off especially when I'm holding it.

The good

Honestly, there weren't that many good things about this book. The one saving grace that prevented me from giving this a 1-star would have to be the decent moments there were in this book. Even though 90% of the book was complete garbage, the 10% of it was decent. With talk about family, money issues, these conversations were done well.


I was promised a smart and funny book only to find out it was complete crap. Penny was bad, the plot was convoluted, the writing was awful, and the romance was just non-existant.

Thanks for reading my review!

Profile Image for Nat.
555 reviews3,179 followers
August 26, 2018
Roller Girl 1-- bookspoils
Angst, Love, Texts, and Tattoos

When I read through the excerpt for Emergency Contact  back in February, I had a slight inkling indicating it would be well worth the wait. I was hooked, in particular, when I highlighted the opening line that really gets those of us living in the more warmer areas: When it came to perspiration, Penny had a problem. Not that she stank of BO or anything. It’s that from March to around October she was invariably damp. 

I do have to say, though, that upon starting the full book and realizing the aforementioned excerpt wasn't from the first chapter was quite disappointing for me... I definitely had to rearrange my expectations for the following, as the shared excerpt is set way down the road from the opening storyline.

While readjusting, I also became agonizingly aware of how much time we spent on the many, many arbitrary scenes before Penny finally heads off to college: buying a new iPhone, arguing with her mother for flirting at the Apple store, packing up and heading on her drive to the University of Texas at Austin, actually arriving on campus, entering her shared dorm room, going into the bathroom, rearranging her toiletry bag... SO MANY DETAILS that I shouldn't have to know; pages upon pages of description make my mind wander. In my eyes, all the aforementioned could have been summarized in a couple of pages, instead of dedicating four whole chapters to it.

There's literally a scene at House Coffee that starts from Sam's viewpoint, where Penny enters with her roommate and her roommate's best friend, and then follows up exactly where we left off in Penny's following chapter... Like, *silent-scream* having time jumps of over an hour is allowed...

But I'm glad I pushed through the longish introduction (low-key because I had already prepared the header image for my review out of excitement and wasn't gonna let it go to waste) because what unfolds is a coming-of-age tale that chronicles the intersecting lives of Penny Lee and Sam Becker, both not to be trifled with.

When Sam and Penny cross paths it’s less meet-cute and more a collision of unbearable awkwardness. Still, they swap numbers and stay in touch—via text—and soon become digitally inseparable, sharing their deepest anxieties and secret dreams without the humiliating weirdness of having to see each other.

But it's the precise commentary invoked in this book that made me want to stick around. Penny's character had the best lines, as well.

• Sam is the essence of the tweet that goes "when i see a skinny white boy that looks like he hasn’t slept in years," courtesy of Penny's many favorable descriptions for his looks:

“Sam could have been in a band. A dreamy, brooding band. Penny thought cigarettes were pointless and smelled awful, but she imagined that Sam smoked and that he looked cool doing it.”

And this priceless line: “Sam had resting bitch face until he laughed.” 

Also, her appreciation for his many tattoos (sixteen in all) was beyond infectious: “Sam had somehow found the Perfect Shirt with the Perfect Collar, which was stretched out just enough to create this enticing peekaboo effect.”

I was practically craning my neck to get a better look.

• Things only went up from here when Penny gets some much-needed characterization by introducing her love of writing. Similar to Fangirl, we get to sit in on her Fiction-Writing course, and it was fascinating through the various topics discussed. Her professor, J.A., really channeled in this quote:


“Penny had been writing all the time, for years now. She’d never stopped even if she showed no one. Stories, lists of ideas, and strange chunks of amusing dialogue that came to her while she ignored whatever else was going on in her actual life. She knew she was decent. Only she wanted more.”

• The impeccable humor in here takes it to a whole other level. The messages exchanged between Sam and Penny that had me stifling a laugh more than once. Including the most memorable from Sam's POV after he shoots Penny a mirror selfie, debating if he's overdressed:

(His responses are on the right)

Emergency Contact 1-- bookspoils


This is that more comical when you know the insider's scoop on Penny's stance with nudes (*shudders @Mark*) and her spot-on "Calm down," poking fun at Sam's earlier use of it, and him lightening the air by making a jab at his earlier panic attack. They're catching feelings as they text, and I'm nothing if not here for it.

“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.”

And I nearly CHOKED on this conversation between Uncle Sam and Jude:

“The thing is,” she continued, “I’m also very perceptive. And I get now why you guys did what you did. Speaking of which, you’re both so lucky you have unlimited texting. You know she couldn’t even pee without taking her phone into the bathroom? I could hear her laughing in there.”
Jude smiled then.
“News flash,” she said. “At some point, your girlfriend might have been taking a dump while you were flirting with her.”

This book is TOO REAL.

• On another note: Sam and Penny getting caught up in one another was entrancing and intoxicating to witness.

��Sam wanted to tell Penny everything. He wanted a record of his thoughts and feelings and stories to exist with her. Like a time capsule for this strange period of his life. With her, he felt less lonely. He hadn’t even realized he was lonely. He hadn’t let himself.”

• More notable observations:<

“Penny never looked the way she thought she did in her head, like how your recorded voice sounds positively vile when you hear it out loud.”

“Wow,” he said. “Sometimes talking to you is like accidentally clicking on a pop-up with autoplay video.”

Celeste's (aka Penny's mom) take on the signs of love:

“I know I love someone when I can’t remember what they look like in any real way. I can never seem to recall whether they’re handsome or ugly or if other people think they’re cute. All I know is that when I’m not with them and I think about them, where their face should be is this big cloud of good feelings and affection.”

Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 09.46.55

Although I did have minor hindrances to my reading experience, overall I'd conclude by saying that  Emergency Contact features a realistic story that has emotional depth and ends on a hopeful note. (But I'm mad at myself for thinking the last chapter wasn't the last and being once again shocked at seeing Acknowledgments at the head of the page...)

Lastly, I couldn't have listened to a more fitting song than this one, since Penny and Sam coincidentally share the same pair of beat-up black sneakers.

If you're not sleepin' with me, then I'll get no sleep at all.

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This review and more can be found on my blog.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,484 reviews29.4k followers
April 14, 2018

I totally agree, soon-to-be Princess Meghan! (Yes, I know she won't actually be called that, but I don't care.) I loved loved loved this book, and it reminded me of how good an amazing YA book (or any book for that matter) makes me feel.

Penny can't wait to go to college and escape her high-maintenance mother, Celeste. Celeste seems to forget she's the mother and Penny's her daughter, and having to keep avoiding your mother's attempts to be your best friend and dress like you and talk about cute boys is utterly exhausting. All Penny wants to do is become a writer and leave her old life behind, and even if it's just a little more than an hour away from home.

Sam is a mess. His family life is a shambles, he lives in a storage room above the coffeehouse where he works, and he had to drop out of school because he couldn't afford it. He's trying to get over his cheating ex-girlfriend (who can't seem to stay away completely), and he wishes he had more money so he could take a film class and start making documentaries.

Although Penny and Sam meet once when she visits his coffeehouse with her roommate, Jude, who is sort-of Sam's ex-niece, their meet-not-so-cute occurs when she spots Sam having a panic attack on the street and she rescues him. Their shared quirky sense of humor quickly bonds them in friendship, and the two become each other's emergency contact, and a sounding board for the things they're feeling about life around them.

Their relationship is purely textual, but they can't get enough of each other. They can say anything they want to each other, and it's amazing how dependent each becomes on the other. Both feel the desire, the pull to take a further step, but what if the other doesn't reciprocate those feelings? What if they don't work as more than friends? How can they jeopardize this incredible relationship they've built?

"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. With Sam in her pocket, she wasn't ever alone. But sometimes it wasn't enough. Penny knew she should be grateful, yet there was this niggling hope, this aggravating notion running constantly in the background of her operating system, that one day Sam would think about her and decide, 'To hell with all these other chicks I meet every day who are hot, not scared of sex, and are rocket scientists when it comes to flirting, I choose you, Penelope Lee. You have an inventive, not-at-all-gross way with snacks, and your spelling is top-notch.'"

How do you know when to take a leap of faith and risk it all? How can you protect yourself from the possibility everything could go amazingly wrong? And how can you let other people in when you've spent so much of your life insulating yourself from everyone to be sure you don't get hurt? Emergency Contact tries to answer those questions, and does so with such memorable, amazing, quirky, awkward characters I absolutely loved.

This is one of those books where the main characters talk at a sophistication level above where most people their age do, but for Sam and Penny, that absolutely worked. Even though you've probably seen this story before, maybe countless times, in Mary H.K. Choi's hands, it's so fresh and appealing, and I just couldn't get enough.

I never trust when blurbs compare one book to another, yet the comparison to Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park (one of my all-time faves) isn't way off the mark. There's a quirkiness to Choi's writing that is utterly endearing, much like Rowell's, and both authors have so much heart.

Loved it. Loved it. Loved it.

See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com, or check out my list of the best books I read in 2017 at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2018/01/the-best-books-i-read-in-2017.html.
Profile Image for Ashley Nuckles.
190 reviews7,246 followers
April 29, 2018
Basically started this at 1pm today and finished 9 hours later hahaha

This story was fricken adorable & I loved it so much! The writing was so fun and relatable and I adored Penny and Sam. The only fault I have it that I wanted mooooooore!
Profile Image for Christy.
3,818 reviews32.4k followers
July 10, 2020
4.5 stars

 photo 0C8D0F23-5F63-43EF-8D6C-3EE2C574E357_zpsnfhs669p.png
“Loving someone was traumatizing. You never knew what would happen to them out there in the world. Everything precious was also vulnerable.”

Emergency Contact is my first book by Mary H.K. Choi and I loved it. Before reading it, I noticed it had mixed reviews. While I can see why this book wouldn't be for everyone, I'm so happy I picked it up because it was very much for me and I'm looking forward to reading the authors other book, 'Permanent Record' soon!

This story takes place as Penny Lee is starting her first year of college. Early on, we meet Sam who has a family connection to Penny's college roommate. Penny and Sam are both going through a lot. A lot of changes, a lot of stress, and they need someone they can talk to. They become that for each other. Mostly, these characters communicate via texting (which I loved) after Penny helps out Sam one day when he's distressed. I loved watching the connection and bond they formed and how they were always there for one another.

I think one of the reasons I enjoyed this so much was that I connected with the main character in a big way. Sure, I'm not in college anymore, nor am I Korean, and honestly my personality is very different from Penny's, but her relationship with her mom is spot on to how mine was. I love my mom dearly and she is amazing, but she also had me young and I felt like the grown up in that same way as a child/teenager. That dynamic felt so real to me. I love characters that are real and relateable and all of these characters felt that way to me.

I loved this authors writing style, and while listening to the audiobook I didn't want to press pause. That, to me, is a sign of a great read. I loved how realistic and poignant it was. My only complaint is that I wanted a little more out of the ending, but overall I loved this one lots!
“You can be with the same person for a long time and have it be fine and meet someone else who instantly makes you see that it's broken."
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews33 followers
April 21, 2018
I liked it.
I didn’t like it.
I liked it.
I didn’t
mostly didn’t.
Really didn’t!!!!

Overall this was a drain on my brain.

From the start I thought it was pretty stupid to be honest ...
Milf mom?
and her daughter bitching?
What’s funny? Or even interesting?

The whole thing....
What’s the purpose?
Why did I care?
And what was this book ultimately about and trying to achieve?

Others LOVED LOVED LOVED this book....
I tried ...( because I love many of those people who love this book)...
but I’m a turd... It made me feel critical.
....A few good moments -
....I was held captive from beginning to end... but shaking my head often.
....Too many things in this book - from the characters, the dialogue, and their personal focus on life, just make me feel pretty sad that if our college age kids are anything like the characters in “Emergency Contact”....
we have much to worry about.

Others really like this book. Please - read the positive reviews. I wouldn’t recommend it myself ....
Thought it was kinda a waste of my time.
Profile Image for Hilly.
702 reviews1,265 followers
June 25, 2021
DNF 59% | 04/09/18

I could have spent the entire month reading only this book to have it on my 2018 reading challenge since I’ve surpassed the halfway point, but I just don’t care anymore. I am worried that if I push myself I’ll end up in a reading slump. I’m so bored and I can’t connect with the characters. I thought I liked Sam but now I’m tired of his negativity. Penny is just plain egocentric and I don’t like her at all. She wants to appear like an introverted girl but she’s actually really mean and considers herself to be above everyone else.
There was no chemistry between the two, the texting wasn’t even a big part of the book. We are told that they text a lot but we don’t actually see it, so it was impossible for me to fall for the romance. As no texting graphic was employed I was also often confused when reading the texts. Who was writing what?
Nothing much happened and it was so painful to read this. The writing style just didn’t suit me, it was really descriptive and used too many words to say something that could have been said in 5.
Penny and Sam don’t even meet awkward, I feel like I was lied to by the synopsis. Penny sees Sam for the first time and falls for him right away so this isn’t even a well constructed slow burn romance.
So much wasted potential.

I got an interesting hair idea from this book tho: light pink hair with aquamarine tips, how cool is that? 👌
In fact I guess the only interesting character was Lorraine, she knows what she wants. The others are just there to complain about shit without doing anything about it.
Profile Image for destiny ♡ howling libraries.
1,662 reviews5,144 followers
June 4, 2018
This was one of my most anticipated contemporary releases of the year, and while it definitely was not without its flaws, I thought it was all in all a tremendously cute, sweet story. I get so accustomed to reading heavy contemporaries—and don’t get me wrong, this one tackles some really rough topics—but Mary managed to write it in a way that, at risk of sounding really odd by saying this, felt like a geeky, goth twist on the stereotypical “fluffy YA contemporary” novel.

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.

→ Penelope Lee ←
The book alternates perspectives, and the first character we meet—the one who feels more like the primary protagonist—is Penelope Lee, or Penny, a Korean-American girl who’s beginning her first year at college. She’s not a particularly likeable character for the first half or so of the book: her anxiety is relatable and I saw a lot of myself in the ways it manifests for her, but she’s also a bit coldhearted and downright mean to the other women in her life. I always struggle with books that feature girl-on-girl hate because it’s hard to predict if it’s a poor trope or the beginning of a great character progression, but thankfully, it’s the latter in this case. Penny is kind of weird and hilarious, and I absolutely would have been best friends with her as a teen (and by that I mean we would’ve just blown each other’s phones up with awkward questions and stupid, geeky jokes).

People were odd. Sam loved and loathed that about them. Fiction was fine, but real life was the true freak show.

→ Sam Becker ←
Sam, our other protagonist, is a 21-year-old who runs the local coffee shop (and lives above it), and he’s kind of the definition of the “starving artist” trope, but in a good way. There’s a lot of validity in his narrative when it comes to his representation of what being poor is like for kids, and that’s not a side of the story that we see often in YA books. That said, he’s a good egg through and through, even if I just spent most of the book feeling sorry for him and simultaneously kind of wanting someone to shake a little bit of sense into him. It’s hard not to root for him, but I do wish that we’d gotten to see a little bit more of his inner monologue regarding his friendship/relationship with Penny, instead of spending so much time focusing on his ex-girlfriend or his past.

“I think I get to miss you. I feel like I’ve earned it.”

That said, watching these two interact with each other is the best part of the book, by far; their text conversations cracked me up, and their flirting is so awkward and nerdy at times that it reminded me WAY too much of myself and my fiancé. They’re also just so candid and open with one another, and it’s absolutely precious to watch how instantly they trust one another. It doesn’t feel like insta-love by any stretch, but it does portray how blissfully disarming it can feel to meet someone you immediately feel like you can be yourself around.

He wanted to hug her. In fact, he wanted to hug her and then build an electrified fence around her. A fence that was encircled by a moat filled with rabid, starving alligators.

Don’t get me wrong, though, there are some very heavy topics in this book, and between that and the characters’ ages, I actually hesitate to call this YA, as it felt more like a “mild” NA read to me. We see multiple instances of abusive and/or neglectful parenting, plus we watch Sam deal with life as a recovering alcoholic (and he does relapse at one point, so if that’s a trigger for you, beware). We also watch Sam deal with his ex-girlfriend’s pregnancy and there’s a lot of chatter about becoming a parent and what that entails. At one point, a character accidentally overdoes it with drugs and ends up hospitalized. A character explains a rape from her past in fairly heavy details, and there are a handful of racist comments thrown at Penny throughout the story. As far as the dialogue itself goes, there are some unchallenged remarks that I could’ve done without, such as one slightly acephobic comment, and several uses of the word “slut”.

“Don’t drag the entire me folder into the desktop trash can so you hear the paper-rustling sound.”
“You can’t ask me that. The paper-rustling sound is too satisfying.”

Altogether, Emergency Contact isn’t a perfect read; it’s got some awkward comments and uncomfortable moments, and to be frank, the first quarter or so of the book is slow and a little bit boring. That said, it really picked up for me and I absolutely loved the second half. By the end of the story, I was rooting so hard for Penny and Sam to just be happy and healthy and have a beautiful little life together. ♥ If you enjoy YA/NA contemporaries, especially ones with a bit of geek humor and cute boys with lots of tattoos, definitely pick this one up and give it a try.

Buddy read with Reg!

You can find this review and more on my blog, or you can follow me on twitter, bookstagram, or facebook!
Profile Image for B .
114 reviews12.1k followers
May 4, 2021
***4.5 stars. Absolutely loved this. I felt so connected to penny and the journey she was on and just related in so many ways. And the humor in this was just my style
Profile Image for Jessica.
723 reviews611 followers
April 9, 2018
You know, for a while there I actually thought I might end up liking this story somewhat but now I’m just like, NO. Majorly underwhelmed. 2 stars and I’m being generous.

So Penny wants to be a writer, yeah? And she has this professor who critiques her work and gives her advice, talking about the importance of character motivation etc. so I think it’s kinda sad that the author wasn’t able to bring that to paper herself. At the end of the book I’m sitting here with a gazillion questions left unanswered and wondering what exactly it was that I’ve just read. We have this potpourri of fucking serious issues and they’re all just mentioned in this off-hand manner, none of them were addressed properly and maybe half of them were somewhat resolved by the end of the book. It’s like having a character - who was abused as a child, has a horrible relationship with the parents, is anorexic and a drug addict - saying at the end of the book, oh yeah, I should probably eat more and maybe get some therapy. Like, whut? That’s all you (=the author) are going to say? For the amount of issues these characters had I would’ve expected more, idk, closure I guess? And the closure we did get just felt rushed and half-baked.

Now, about those horrible characters. Penny was such a selfish, judgmental, mean bitch who looked down on everyone. Some of the things we learned about her past throughout the book put her behavior a bit more into perspective but it doesn’t change the fact that she was not a good person.

Sam, with his truckload of issues was alright and the only character I actually liked.

Jude and Mallory...one was nice but kinda flat and boring and Mallory was a racist bitch whose 180 towards the end felt completely forced and unnatural.

The romance itself, once Penny and Sam started texting, was kinda cute and led to my temporary belief that this might actually end up being somewhat decent but even that was weighed down by Penny’s nasty attitude and all the other issues I had with this.

I also don’t get why race and skin color was constantly brought up by the author and a lot of comments made by various characters were either extremely judgmental and prejudiced, or just downright racist. Other than making me dislike the characters even more, the author accomplished absolutely nothing with it.

I could try to explain more but frankly, I don’t want to waste anymore time on this.

This was not what I expected I would get when I picked this up. Bummer.

FINALLY an official buddy read with my book bestie Kim, the Xander to my Willow, my twin in all things bookish, my sister from another mister...told you I’d make it awkward 😉
Let’s hope this doesn’t suck! 🤞


Well. It did suck :(
Profile Image for TS.
329 reviews60 followers
May 10, 2018
4 stars !!!

I can see why people hated this, or found aspects of it frustrating or annoying or subtlely problematic or whatever (which is why I couldn't five star this because I didn't absolutely and faultlessly love it), but for once in my life im on the infrared side of the controversial spectrum and everything is good and positive and fucking dandy. this makes no sense I think it's the aftereffects of my month-long sleep deprivation. whatever tho.

rtc because I know y'all who read this are gonna drag me for liking a book where the mc calls their own mother a milf.


this better be good because I just suffered through what was possibly the hardest 3 academic weeks of my life and didn't have time to pick up a single book for the longest time and I really need a cute contemp right now okay
Profile Image for jaime ⭐️.
124 reviews5,940 followers
January 9, 2020
book 3 out of 100

“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.”

Wow, wow, wow. This book has to be up there with Radio Silence for me in terms of relatability when it comes to my teenage (or not so teenage) experience. It’s current and modern and authentic when it comes to young people navigating social media and there wasn’t a single moment where I cringed from incorrect teen-speak! Mary H. K. Choi has crafted a brilliant and honest YA contemporary novel and I. Am. Crying.

At it’s core, Emergency Contact is about two cynics having a chance encounter, which is awkward and dramatic and uncomfortable for both parties, basically unloading all of life’s burdens on to each other (in between intellectually-stimulating conversations such as ‘what’s better, cake or pie?’) and eventually falling in love.

Penny is a Korean-American high school graduate, starting her first year of college and finally escaping the clutches of her mediocre life at home and the loving arms of her overbearing mother who she hates for some reason. (This was weird. More on that later.) She’s a writer and a pessimistic oddball and TOTALLY unlikeable, but we grow to adore her.

Sam is an absolute dream. He’s twenty-one, a baker, an aspiring documentary filmmaker, and the epitome of a Twitter white-boy-of-the-month with his floppy hair, tattoos and tall and skinny frame. He is constantly described as being on the brink of death and I’m in love with him.

These characters won’t be for everyone. They are cynical, judgemental, and slightly holier than thou. Penny especially has an air of ‘not like other girls’ around her. But they are honest and they are realistic. They do and have done bad things to other characters in the book, but they’re young and going through a lot of shit. Their emotions just poured off the page and into my heart and everything felt so real. There were so many moments where I found that the author had taken a feeling I’ve had in the past and put it into words in a way that I never could. Some examples are:

“It was more that Sam was a type of human Penny couldn’t have previously fathomed. Sam was proof of life on other planets. If a Sam existed, she couldn’t be with a Mark. Not even if she couldn’t be with a Sam.”

“Sam enjoyed texting Penny. They talked about work, sleep, food, random facts. It didn’t need to be anything important. Their last text had been what to eat for breakfast. Since Penny had seen him at his lowest, there was no reason to act cooler than he was.”

I feel like these thoughts were taken right out of my head at different points in my life! They don’t paint me or these characters as particularly good people but it was so refreshing to see less than perfect main characters on the page!

The book is told in dual perspective, each chapter alternating between Penny and Sam’s POV. Usually I find that when a story is told like this I often end up enjoying one perspective vastly more than the other. But luckily, this was not the case for these characters. I think that had to be because both Penny and Sam’s voices felt so distinct and fleshed out. Yes, their romance is the main subject of the story, but they both have so much else going on. They have their own interests and lives and relationships with other people. I particularly loved reading about Penny’s creative writing class and her journey of self-discovery as a writer.

Another thing I loved were the side characters. Not only were Sam and Penny fully-developed, but the characters that made their lives fuller were so interesting and totally four-dimensional. I loved the roommate Jude, the awful ex-girlfriend Lorraine (also known as MsLolaXo), Andy the hot British-Chinese writing student, and adorable yet insufferable Mallory Sloane. The only character I wish we got to know more of was Celeste, Penny’s mother. Penny and Celeste had an awfully strained relationship which was the cause for so many of Penny’s issues. And from what we saw of Celeste, she was reckless and out-of-touch and didn’t bother to really get to know Penny at all; just planted an image of what she wanted Penny to be onto her daughter. I wish we got to know more about the reasons behind this. I wish Celeste at least got to have a moment of clarity in which she explained some things to her daughter and in turn, gave the readers a bit of her backstory. It just felt a bit off and slightly unfinished to me.

There is one scene in this book that explores sexual assault. I still don’t quite know how to feel about this scene and it was pretty hard to read. That being said, the author dealt with sexual assault in a way I haven't seen before. It didn’t feel gratuitous at all and I felt like the subject was handled very delicately and realistically. It started a dialogue on the confusion a victim can feel and their validity as a victim and I think that’s a very brave and important dialogue to have. I just wanted to warn readers before picking up this book as it does kind of come out of nowhere; and while I didn’t have a pleasant time reading it, I am happy with how the author approached the topic.

Overall, I can see why this book has the community divided. It’s definitely not perfect. I can see how Penny and Sam could become exhausting and there were some lines that were slightly too judgemental and unnecessary. There was also border-line girl-on-girl hate which I was worried about, but it fizzled out as Penny developed in the end. But in my heart, I related with it just too much for me to give it anything less than the four stars it deserves. Is this review slightly biased and subjective? Yes. But let me have this one please.

tw: rape, anxiety, panic attacks, alcoholism, depression


Profile Image for megs_bookrack.
1,538 reviews9,833 followers
January 5, 2023
I picked up Emergency Contact as Book #6 for my TBR-Haul Project. I hauled it all the way back in July of 2018 and then for some reason never picked it up.

My initial attraction, and frankly the reason I bought it, was for the cover. I mean, look at her! She's stunning. I was also hearing great buzz for it at the time though.

In spite of the fact that it's been collecting dust all that time, I have never really lost interest in the story. After picking it up, I'm disappointed in myself for neglecting it for so long!

This story is set in Austin, Texas and follows two main characters, Penny and Sam.

Penny is just entering her first year of college. With dreams of being a writer, she's looking forward to getting to Austin and leaving her small town life behind.

Penny was raised by a single mom, who she loves so much, but has a complicated relationship with. Penny's mom was young when she had her and sometimes, to Penny, it feels more like she is the parent than the child.

Sam is in his early-20s and he is in a major rut. After a break-up, he's stuck secretly living at the coffee shop in which he works.

He dreams of becoming a filmmaker, but those dreams are on hold at the moment, as he just tries to struggle through day-to-day life. Being newly sober is the icing on the cake, but he does his best to make it work.

When Sam and Penny meet through Penny's new college roommate Jude, it's silently like a gut punch for them both, but they don't make a real connection until later.

A chance encounter finds them alone and the serious experience they go through together that night creates a bond that they keep all to themselves.

From that point forward, they remain in daily contact via text messages and an all-consuming relationship blooms through that remote form of interaction.

As they continue to get to know one another, feelings and emotions begin to grow, but will the two be able to take it from the screen to IRL?

The audiobook format of this story swept me away. We have two narrators, one for Penny and one for Sam and they truly brought this narrative to life. I genuinely felt like I was listening to Penny and Sam tell their stories.

I absolutely adored both of these characters. Penny especially. The way she thought and viewed the world, it was so natural and relatable. I loved her sense of humor or sort of snarky attitude towards life.

Sam was such a sweetie, who although he had been let down by many people in his life, still managed not to be jaded and just had the kindest heart.

In addition to loving them individually, I loved the chemistry and banter between these two. From the very first moment they met, I knew we were bound to have something special here. Watching their relationship grow through a less traditional medium than face-to-face interaction made it that much more enjoyable.

There was a certain level of pining that came with it that I'm not sure we would have experienced otherwise.

Both of these characters were dealing with different and very serious life issues involving family, past traumas and self-confidence. Watching them work through those things, and help each other work through those things, was believable and ultimately left me feeling hopeful.

I was surprised by how connected I felt to these characters as the story progressed. I haven't really been picking up a lot of Contemporary stories recently and this one revamped my interest in these types of topics and narratives.

I am definitely planning to read more of Mary H.K. Choi's work. If it is half as great as this, I have a lot of stellar reading ahead from this author!

Profile Image for monica kim.
202 reviews6,072 followers
May 21, 2018
4.5 stars 💕 wow wow wow i adored this! i fell so in love with these weird, messy characters. they felt real and complicated. i loved the way digital communication was treated in this book - it’s so rare to find a books that are not super condescending about that. and i LOVE that penny is “unlikable.” i hate how there’s this expectation that girls in books can’t mess up or sometimes fail in order to be a good main character. i also thought the way choi handled the casual racism penny faced, even from friends, was exceptional. that’s not what the book is about, but penny is korean, so it’s still part of her life. same with girl-on-girl hate. i thought that that was tackled both deftly and very well by the novel's end. lastly, there is a tw in this book for sexual assault. and without getting too much into it...i really appreciate how choi handled the affects of that. and while i so appreciate books that tackle sexual assault head-on, that's not this book, so also don't go into it expecting that.
Profile Image for Mel (Epic Reading).
906 reviews278 followers
September 8, 2018
Ugh. Need I say more?
I read 20% of this book (which is under my normal guideline to read at least 30% of any book). I didn't need to read anymore of it to know that I was never going to be interested.
Things that drove me crazy in Emergency Contact:
1) She covets her phone like it's sacred. It's an important device, I get that but it doesn't need to be worshipped or be anyone's "precious".
2) I know lots of young girls say these things, but I don't care how authentic it is. It's never okay to greet friends as "hey bitch" or "hi whore". Desensitizing ourselves to these words helps no one.
3) Typical cliche characters. Neither our gal or guy were anymore than a stereotypical teenage kid. I like my characters to have personalities thanks.
4) The writing is really poor. I'm sorry to say but it felt stilted and boring. I never once felt like I got an impression in my mind of the characters or what was happening. It was like reading random words on a page that I was desperate to make mean something.
5) Did I mention the phone thing?

I honestly don't have much more to say about this book as I didn't read it all. But I will say that given how many trustworthy reviews I've seen give it a poor rating I'm glad I could DNF it early on and move to better novels.

For this and more of my reviews please visit my blog at: Epic Reading

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
Profile Image for Stacee.
2,711 reviews703 followers
April 12, 2018
I loved this book so much and I don’t think I can properly review it... I will apologize for what will likely be a hot mess.

Penny and Sam are both great characters who were easy to root for. They're both struggling and they find a lifeline of sorts in each other. I loved how we just got the surface of the secondary characters. For me, it really helped show how Penny and Sam felt: separate and alienated.

Plot wise, it's the slowest and most delicious burn that ever existed. I loved the texting and the calls and the email {OH MY GOD THE EMAIL} and that they barely ever met up in person, but both knew that the other was always always always there for them. There is a bit of conflict and it fits so perfectly in the story. There is a discussion about a rape that took place, so be prepared for that.

Overall, it was everything I could have wanted. This is officially one of my top ten of 2018 and I can’t wait to read it again.

**Huge thanks to Simon & Schuster for sending me a finished copy**
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