I’ll admit, this is one of those books I picked up because the cover was gorgeous. I’d never heard of Mary HK Choi or the work she’s done, but I knew she wrote a YA for the current generation of kids and that it was epic. The cover seemed like a bonus.
Here’s more about the book
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.
I read this book over the time I spent in Hawaii. It was the first book I read and one of two books I finished while on vacation (btw, vacation reading is hard). I thought I was going to get another hardcore YA love novel about two kids who just meet and sort of fall in love. However, what I got was something completely opposite to that and what I feel is the most accurate depiction of young people today.
If my trip to LA has taught me anything it’s that people are attached to their phones. They are always looking at updates to Instagram and even teenagers can’t stay more than the six hours to fly to LA without checking their phones for any important messages. Honestly, kids are stuck to phones as much as bankers or investors were stuck to their blackberries.
One kid on the flight back from LA was on his laptop the entire time even during take off and landing. You would think he’s working on some serious powerpoint or bargaining for cheaper prices on his stock purchases, but no. He was just going through his old chat messages and reading them with a fine-toothed comb.
And this is the culture. I’m already behind this generation because I can spend hours without touching my phone let alone chatting with people all day. Mary HK Choi was able to capture that culture. With her intelligent-yet-slangy conversations, you can see how the culture of living on your phones defies the reality of meeting someone IRL.
I think the essential question people keep asking about this book is if it answers the question of whether two people can exist only on the Internet?
My answer: yes. I have friends on bookstagram that I’ve never met and I consider them my closest boos. I went to an event where I met my regular bookstagrammers and found the conversation a little bit stiffer than it would be over the phone. It’s a weird world that we live in where many of us are much more comfortable chatting away on our computers than in real life. I still get weirded out when some of my family members insist on using voices to chat.
I love how Penny starts off with the phone and getting acclimated to it. The first scene is her at an Apple store completely unsure what to do with it. It wasn’t until she met Sam that she starts to text and see that the world kind of revolves around your phone. This is the marking point where a person completely unaware of how to use the phone suddenly is sucked into it knowing exactly how to chat.
After they meet, it’s just a whirlwind of texts. I was honestly worried that the rest of the book would be barely written pages of texts between the two people, but there was story written between the chats. You can feel the stark difference between their real life and the life they had on their phones.
I also loved how real this story felt. It definitely wasn’t the rich boy/girl meets the poor boy/girl and somehow they fall in love. It was two people who didn’t really have the means to do much but live pretty decent lives with the generosity of others. It just feels way more real than reading about rich people rejecting poor people and vice versa.
One of the biggest things I resonated so much with in this story is Penny’s mom. This book definitely isn’t about race even though it’s mentioned that Penny is Korean American. However, I was still able to find resonance in the characters even when it wasn’t primarily depicted.
Despite what people think, I’m American born. My mother immigrated here when she was 13, so she grew up in America and that culture is already instilled in her. She reminded me of Celeste except that she wore age-appropriate clothing.
My mom was the cool mom (still the cool mom if you ask me) imbued with American culture, but still able to bring out the tiger mom if she needed to. I’m technically 1st generation born in American, but I like to think I’m 1.5. One being my dad immigrating here when he was already an adult and point five because my mom was an American before we were even born.
I don’t think I can really think of many faults in this book. The writing is pitch perfect. The characters both grow in different ways from when they first started. Shit gets resolved. If I could fault the book for anything it would be understanding more about the whole Bastian movie Sam was making. I was just a little confused by its presence there and how it contributes to the story. If anything, it just made Sam widely more aware of the fact that he’s broke.
But overall, I thought this book was cute and poignant and made me feel happy to read. I wouldn’t say that it’s a sugary read or a sweet-tooth craving. There’s definitely some themes that are tough to swallow (rape trigger warning), but it was lovely to get to know Sam and Penny and watch their love bloom.
- Hardcover: 394 pages
- Simon Teen (March 27, 2018)
- My Rating: 4/5 stars
- Buy Emergency Contact on Amazon
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