REVIEW: The Works of Mary H.K Choi
Hello Fellow Readerholics,
This week I thought I’d try something different. I recently read ‘Permanent Record’ and ‘Emergency Contact’ by Mary H.K Choi and I thought it would be interesting to review both books and compare the two books. I’ll review ‘Permanent Record’ first and then ‘Emergency Contact’ and then I’ll talk about my thoughts on both books. I haven’t been as active as I’d like so I’ll probably be putting out two more reviews this week.
SYNOPSIS (Permanent Record)
After a year of college, Pablo is working at his local twenty-four-hour deli, selling overpriced snacks to brownstone yuppies. He’s dodging calls from the student loan office and he has no idea what his next move is.
Leanna Smart’s life so far has been nothing but success. Age eight: Disney Mouseketeer; Age fifteen: first #1 single on the US pop chart; Age seventeen, *tenth* #1 single; and now, at Age nineteen…life is a queasy blur of private planes, weird hotel rooms, and strangers asking for selfies on the street.
When Leanna and Pab randomly meet at 4:00 a.m. in the middle of a snowstorm in Brooklyn, they both know they can’t be together forever. So, they keep things on the down-low and off Instagram for as long as they can. But it takes about three seconds before the world finds out…
I think I’ll begin this review by stating that I actually quite anticipated reading this book (and Emergency Contact, for that matter) so it’s safe to say I had high expectations. I quite enjoyed the book but it just didn’t live up to my expectations which is just the absolute worst. There were still parts I enjoyed but I was thoroughly underwhelmed.
There were some things about this book that I truly did like and most of it was the social commentary that the novel had to offer. In the book, Pablo is seriously in debt after going to (and subsequently dropping out of) college. I don’t know much about the state of it in Australia but I know in America (where the book is set) they have a serious crisis pertaining student debt in regards to young people not having the money to pay for college. That being said, I don’t think Pablo handled his *crippling* debt well enough and some of his choices were just so irrational when you think of his financial situation. It also just really bugged me because before dropping out, he attended NYU, a very good college that he knew he couldn’t afford.
I did like the representation of mixed race characters (Pablo is half- Korean, half-Pakistani) and I thought the unique struggles that come with being mixed were portrayed really well in this instance. There’s this part of the book where Pablo talks about how he feels that he can’t really ‘claim’ either race for his own as he isn’t fully one or the other and how he doesn’t exactly fit in with that. I don’t have any experience struggling with racial identity but I imagine that something like that would resonate with a lot of people and that’s important.
Now we get into some of the stuff I didn’t like as much…
This book promised me 417 pages of a beautiful contemporary romance, yet it was still a weird insta-love. WHY?!!! This isn’t a small book, it’s not like things had to be rushed yet Pablo was obsessing (to a rather concerning extent, tbh) about Leanna in the first 2 chapters or so. I just don’t understand why that was necessary. It was partly because of the weirdly fast progression of things that I never felt I could relate to the characters and that was probably the worst thing about this book. I just couldn’t understand most of their choices and their character arcs just weren’t that great.
Another pet peeve of mine about this book was the language used. It was very modern and a lot of it was what we consider ‘internet slang’ but it bothered me because it just won’t age well. I found myself cringing at some of the language used and the book was released in 2019. It just concerns me because in about two years or so literally nobody will talk like that because we will have moved on and readers aren’t going to want to read somebody’s internal dialogue when they talk like that.
The last thing that annoyed me was the fact that it was all in Pablo’s perspective. For some reason, I’d deluded myself into thinking this would be one of those dual perspective books but it wasn’t, it was all Pablo. This was just so frustrating to me because some of the things Leanna did just required that internal monologue justification from her. I felt that we as readers didn’t get to know her very well at all which resulted in me just not really shipping them together, which is the worst possible scenario for a contemporary romance.
Overall, I liked some of the social aspects of this book but it was honestly really underwhelming. I’m rating it a 2.3/5.
SYNOPSIS (Emergency Contact)
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.
The quote on the cover of this book is by Rainbow Rowell (author of Fangirl) and it reads; ‘… with characters so real and vulnerable you want to send them care packages.’ I just thought you should read that because it’s true. I DO want to send them care packages! I don’t know what I’d put in them but they deserve it.
You’ve probably noticed that I favour ‘Emergency Contact’ to ‘Permanent Record’ and well… yeah I do. I just really liked the book though it wasn’t without its flaws I think (in an absolute shock plot twist) I’ll talk about some of the negatives of this book (and then try and justify them).
The first chapter of the book begins with Penny purchasing a new iPhone with her mum. Who she then goes on to (internally) sl** shame *sigh*. I’m going to be honest, we weren’t off to a great start. This always bothered me because obviously you can’t just sl** shame people, it’s misogynistic. Especially when that person is your own mother. This never sat well with me (and it still doesn’t) but as we later read on, we learn that Penny feels like her mum treats her more like a friend than a parent and that Penny feels like she has to take on the role of parent on occasion. I’m not excusing her actions but coming from that perspective, she probably feels embarrassed of having to be the responsible person in their already strained relationship.
Following on from this, Penny is actually quite a judgemental person. Which is hard for me because on one hand, it’s hard to read about somebody who judges people like that but on the other hand, I bully the occasional book on the internet so who am I to talk? I think this aspect of her personality, much like her relationship with her mum, is better understood later in the book. We learn of some previous trauma that Penny went through and it makes me wonder if the reason for her more judgemental personality is so she has an excuse to not build close relationships to the people around her, in the event that she gets hurt again. Just a thought.
Now onto some positive stuff!
The Asian representation is really cool to see. There’s a quote from Penny where she talks about her dream of becoming an author and how none of the more famous authors look like her. ‘I haven’t ever seen a writer, A big deal writer who looks like me. And sometimes when I write I imagine the hero as white. Like automatically. How messed* up is that?’ (* we don’t swear on this wholesome website). When I read that quote I realised that I too was guilty of imagining protagonists as white unless it’s explicitly stated that they aren’t and I think a lot of people do that subconsciously as well. This is why representation is important, so people like Penny can see authors and characters who look like them. It’s not that hard, people!
I also found both Penny’s and Sam’s relationship with their mums to be so important and the conflict of loving someone despite how they’ve been to you. Sam’s mum battled with addiction and depression and she wasn’t a great parent to Sam but he loved her regardless. Penny’s mum was immature to the point that she pushed Penny away and she also still loved her mum regardless of the fact. They still both deeply resented their parents though. I wish that had been a bigger part of the story, them just sitting down and communicating their issues to their parents. I think that would’ve been important to the story and it would’ve made their love and forgiveness easier to understand.
Speaking of Penny and Sam, how can a relationship be so cute and wholesome? Unlike Permanent Record, their romance was a very slow burn romance. In fact they initially just started as friends which I find so much cuter and the running theme of them being each other’s emergency contact was so beautiful to me and I just loved it so much .I was also pleasantly surprised to get both their sides of the story in an alternating narrative. It made me *very* happy. That is all.
Overall, this book had some flaws but I felt they were actually pretty justifiable so that means the book was absolutely lovely (and I’m not biased at all). I’m rating it a 4/5.
I obviously much preferred ‘Emergency Contact’ over ‘Permanent Record’ but I still had a pretty fun time reading both books. I appreciated Mary H.K Choi’s writing style in both books but I loved the subtlety of ‘Emergency Contact’ that ‘Permanent Record’ just didn’t have. Also, I haven’t mentioned the covers. They are my favourite book covers, ever. I’m just besotted by them!
Anyway, that’s all for today! I’ll be writing two more reviews soon (wish) so keep an eye out!
Your Favourite Bookworm