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Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Bullying, panic/anxiety attacks, racist micro-aggression, toxic relationships, emotional abuse/manipulation, minor gaslighting, pseudocyesis (phantom pregnancy), talk of cheating, alcoholism, body shaming/body issues, talk of eating disorder, talk of rape, mentions of death and terminal illness, and mention of trypophobia

“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.”

Readers, let me start this off by saying I understand why many readers didn’t like this book or enjoy it. However, I couldn’t get enough of this story, of these characters, and I really loved the various elements this book has. It’s a story I enjoyed, I read this book within a day, and I’m still thinking about it after all this time. This book truly touched a soft spot in my heart.

Our story starts off by following Penny, an 18-year-old Korean-American girl, getting ready to start her first year at college in Austin, Texas. This story also follows our second main character Sam, a 21-year-old tattooed boy living above the coffee shop he works at. Though Sam really enjoys baking, he really wants to become a documentary director. Both of these characters come together when Penny’s roommate, Jude introduces Sam as her uncle. Though the first encounter is awkward, the second time these two characters meet is when Sam is having a panic attack and Penny is the one to find him. Penny is always prepared and after helping Sam work through his panic attack, they exchange numbers and become each other’s emergency contact.

For starters, I loved when Penny and Sam exchanged numbers to be each other’s emergency contact. I don’t think many readers realize how accurate the way the exchange and communication between Penny and Sam really was. Some of my strongest and most intimate friendships have been built through being an emergency contact. And though most of the time Penny and Sam communicate via text, there are times where they do call each other and very few times they meet face to face to talk. Being an emergency contact isn’t always when there’s a panic attack. Sometimes it’s just being a friend and having a normal conversation with them to prevent their stress from reaching a climax of developing into a panic attack. I truly loved that we really got to see that and how realistically it was shown in the texts.

I also fell in love with the way the relationship between Penny and Sam was blooming. Even though each character had their own things happening that they were trying to navigate, they truly felt like two realistic young adults. We really see how they struggle with wanting to be more than “online friends” and what it really means to put yourself out there, whether or not it will mess up the friendship, and questioning if that’s truly what they want. I think many readers will be able to relate to these characters and how they feel especially with how natural it is nowadays to find your friends online, meet your romantic partner online, or even date online. We see how both characters struggle to talk about their feelings face to face. The way they text is the way they can openly share their thoughts and emotions without risking a panic attack and I don’t understand how some can read this only to say that it’s not realistic. Some of the strongest foundations in a friendship are built through emails, letters, or texts and I have experienced that to the fullest over the years of my life. Also, the way they build their friendship before they fully realize they each have romantic feelings for one another was fantastic. The friendship became a larger focus instead of the romance and I really liked how we still got the romance, but it wasn’t snuffing out the friendship. It was a beautifully crafted relationship with so many layers and every time I think about it I fall in love with them all over again.

“Loving someone was traumatizing. You never knew what would happen to them out there in the world. Everything precious was also vulnerable.”

And you know I have to talk about the family dynamics in this book. What a hard hit to home! I say it all the time that I come from a single parent home and how odd my own family dynamic is. To see Penny who comes from a single parent household with an actively dating parent hit me right in the feels. Then to read about Sam’s family dynamic hit me just as hard. I can relate to both of these characters and the struggles they faced with their families. However, it just goes to show how meaningful and how important it is to show diverse families in books. It makes the characters more relatable and it really allows the readers to feel closer to those characters. It just hits a certain kind of way and I really appreciate that the author included the family dynamics in this book.

However, I truly wish I could have given this book a full five stars. There were two things that stuck with me that even now I wish I could remove from my memory. The first thing I had issues with was the false pregnancy. While I understand why it was written the way it was and the part it played for the development of a certain character, it didn’t sit right with me. I’m not going to go into details on why it didn’t sit right with me. However, I will say for those who have fertility issues, those who struggle with becoming pregnant, for those who want a child more than anything else in the world, this may be triggering for you. I wish someone would have told me about this before I started reading this book.

The final thing I want to address was the opportunity that was missed between Penny and her mother. While I understand why Penny revealed what happened to her with Sam, I definitely feel an opportunity was missed. Penny’s mother ends up driving to her dorm and they have a discussion. I feel like somewhere within that discussion Penny could have addressed certain things, but I understand why they weren’t. However, I really wish they had been talked about or addressed it.

Overall, I loved this book and these characters. They felt very realistic and there were so many things in this book that were so relatable. I definitely hope more readers give this book a chance and pick this one up. I think there will be many readers who will fall in love just as much as I did. I have no idea why I let all the hype and negative reviews stop me from reading this book before, but I’m so glad that I picked it up now!

“And for all the people waiting for permission to level up enough before they start working on something big and scary–just go in. Don’t be like me.”

I read this for The Backlist Readathon 2020 💗

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