The concept behind Emergency Contact is pretty cute: Sam and Penny meet at a coffee shop and after Sam has a bad night and Penny is the one who gets him home safely, they agree to be each other’s ’emergency contact,’ the person the other can text for help at any time. Over time, their texts become less about actual emergencies and more about flirting through emojis. The book isn’t a romcom, however, and Sam and Penny end up helping each other through some difficult times.
Mostly, Emergency Contact made me feel old. There was a time I may have been totally caught up in Sam and Penny’s drama, and may very well have found this a very deep and emotionally moving tale of friendship and love. As it was, I was mostly unmoved.
Part of it is that both characters felt quirky hipsterish in a way that reminded me of so many other main characters in teen dramas. Penny is an aspiring fiction writer who studies English at university. Sam is an aspiring documentary filmmaker who works at a coffee shop to make ends meet and doesn’t even have enough money to buy a laptop for making his films. Penny’s main project is a short story inspired by a news item from Korea, and a breakthrough about the perspective that tells the story elevates her work to brilliance in her teacher’s eyes. It was a good idea, and certainly unusual, but I thought the story ended up feeling pretty flat. Sam’s main project is a documentary about neighbourhood kids, which isn’t super groundbreaking in terms of documentary ideas, though I do like a decision he made about how best to respect the best interests of his subjects.
A lot of Penny’s problems also had to do with her mother. I liked the cultural aspect of it, where Penny’s non-Korean roommate complains that Penny’s mother is too involved in her life considering she’s now in university, and Penny explains that that’s just how their relationship is. I thought that felt very realistic, and I thought the roommate’s reaction was also very true-to-life. But overall, I felt bad for Penny’s mother, with Penny being so judgemental of her romantic life and her love for trendy, youthful clothes. I can understand where Penny is coming from, and perhaps if I had read this when I was Penny’s age, I may have even sympathized, but as it is, I felt sorrier for the mother.
Still, the story got better the further it developed, and I especially liked how the friendship between Sam and Penny evolved over time. I think younger readers or at least more angsty or less jaded ones, may enjoy this book more than I did, but this simply wasn’t for me. One thing I did absolutely love is the cover art: the illustrations and cover design are gorgeous!
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.