Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on March 27, 2018
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.
Have you ever read a book and just loved the characters so much you want to scoop them up, roll them in a grandma afghan, give them a home-cooked meal of meatloaf and mashed potatoes, and then let them sleep soundly forever? Because that’s what this book did to me. I am not the biggest fan of new adult because I find 98% of NA stories to be totally unrealistic as far as the romances go, but this one shocked me into submission by being absolutely perfect.
How I’d Describe This Book to a Friend
This is, as you might have guessed by now, a new adult romance. It also happens to be an own voices book, and even better, it’s lovely. Emergency Contact is told in dual perspective, alternating between our two main characters.
Penny: Penny is both me at 18 and not me at 18, and I love and adore her for it. Her inner monologue is hilarious, and she thinks with a writer’s brain and a giant heart. She was raised by her single mom who is basically … well, she’s Amy Poehler’s character from Mean Girls.
Penny, meanwhile, would rather fade into the background and write about it. She is enrolled in college to be a creative writer, a novelist. Penny’s favorite book is the Maus graphic novel series. She is complex and thoughtful, attached to her precious rose gold iPhone like a lifeline, and cannot tolerate stupidity. I fell instantly in love with her the moment I was able to get into her head, and just wanted to give the damn kid a hug. I still do. She is an old soul, and with that comes a heavy responsibility and burden on your shoulders. Anyone else I’d worry about, but not Penny. She’s a beast.
Sam: Oh, sweet baby angel Sam. Sam is 21, a recovering alcoholic with a philandering ex girlfriend, and a love for documentary filmmaking, even though he is currently excelling in his position as a baker and barista for his favorite local coffee shop. I say “local,” because it’s very close to his home. So close, in fact, that his home is actually just a mattress on the floor of the domicile attached to the coffee shop. But Sam has a good head on his shoulders, and he has a plan to persevere. Until his ex-stepsister walks into his coffee shop one afternoon during college orientation with her new roommate, a shy girl who seems obsessed with germs and has his same shoes. Her name is Penny.
One day, Sam passes out from an anxiety attack on the street, and Penny happens to stumble upon him. She remembers him as her roommate’s family member of some sort from the coffee shop, and they both realize Sam doesn’t really have an emergency contact to go to if something like this happens again. So they put each other in their respective phones, and boom – emergency contacts. Or witty banter partners. Or, maybe …
The Bottom Line
I have a very small list of realistic slow-burn romances that I can refer to, and currently the only one I can name is Eliza & Her Monsters by the indelible Francesca Zappia. Emergency Contact will join that book up there, though, as a shining example of how a realistic romance should go. These characters are real – they leave their mark on you, and you feel as if you can walk around a corner and stumble upon one of them, eating a cheeseburger in the window of a McDonalds or flipping through books on film together at Barnes & Noble. These two are beautiful, and I just love them and their journey to pieces. If you like contemporary fiction at all, please do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Emergency Contact – it’ll give you all the warm fuzzies in all the right ways.
“Loving someone was traumatizing. You never knew what would happen to them out there in the world. Everything precious was also vulnerable.”