The Sullivan Sisters: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Sullivan Sisters by Kathryn OrmsbeeSisters Eileen, Claire, and Murphy used to be close. A visionary, a planner, and a performer respectively the sisters could accomplish amazing things–like making their house feel like a home even with their father dead and their mother increasingly absent.

But that was years ago. Now the girls can barely stand to be around each other.

At eighteen Eileen has been carrying a potentially dangerous secret for years. She is working a dead end job. She’s managed to hide her drinking from her mother so far. Her sisters aren’t as easy to fool.

Seventeen-year-old Claire is an Exceller and she is ready to use everything at her disposal to Excel, succeed, get the hell out of her small Oregon town, and find her first girlfriend. With advice from her favorite self-help Youtuber, Claire has done everything right. But she still didn’t get into Yale–the only college she applied to.

Fourteen-year-old Murphy has always felt like a fifth wheel in her family. She never met her father so she can’t miss him. Her mom is never around. Eileen and Claire never have time for her. Luckily, Murphy has her magic tricks to keep her company. She used to also have Siegfried the family turtle. But then she forgot to feed him one too many times.

Days before Christmas Eileen receives a letter that could change everything. The sisters have inherited a house from an uncle they’ve never heard of. A house that could have answers for Eileen, money for Claire to get out of town, and a chance for Murphy to feel like she’s part of a family again in The Sullivan Sisters (2020) by Kathryn Ormsbee

Find it on Bookshop.

The Sullivan Sisters alternates between third person chapters from each sister. Unfortunately, the clinical tone of the narration also makes the sister’s blend together. A heavy reliance on quirks to define their personalities doesn’t help matters.

Your feelings about this book will depend heavily on your expectations going in. If you are looking for a heartfelt story of sisters reconnecting, this is the book for you. If, like me, you came expecting an atmospheric house mystery you will likely be disappointed.

Ormsbee tackles a lot in the book and the mystery aspect, such as it is, barely makes the list. What The Sullivan Sisters does well is present three flawed characters (four if you count their mother) who have gotten so used to drifting along that they need a major jolt (like a surprise inheritance) to get back on track.

Throughout the book Eileen is forced to confront her alcoholism (she is in AA by the end of the story). Claire has to admit that her self-help idol may not be as helpful as she thought but also it may not be as terrible as Claire thought to be queer in a small town–even without a plan. Murphy is a hard one. She is funny and often the most approachable of the sisters. But she also killed Siegfried the turtle through her own neglect–something that was hard to swallow even with an abundance of remorse on her part.

The Sullivan Sisters is a story about connection and secrets. Recommended for readers who enjoy reading about complicated sibling relationships, family secrets, and flawed characters.

Possible Pairings: Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett, Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno, Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry, Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford, The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Scythe: A Review

Scythe by Neal ShustermanIn a post-death world, everything should be perfect. And maybe it is. There is no hunger, no disease, no poverty. Even aging is optional.

Sure, some things are boring–maybe even stagnant–but when you can literally go splat to shake things up without any consequences, does that matter?

Even a perfect world is still only so big. The population still needs to be controlled.

That’s where the scythes come in.

As the only agency who operates outside of the control of the Thunderhead–the AI that helped make this utopia a reality–scythes are tasked with culling the population. Each scythe has full freedom to choose their own methods, their own victims, and their apprentices.

Neither Rowan nor Citra expect to attract a scythe’s attention before turning their first corner. They are even more surprised when, instead of being gleaned, they are told that Scythe Faraday has chosen both of them to be his apprentices.

The problem: Only one of them will become a scythe at the end of the year. In fact, only one of them may survive in Scythe (2016) by Neal Shusterman.

Find it on Bookshop.

Do you ever read a book and just not get it? That was me with this one.

I’ve read Scythe twice and, honestly, I still don’t understand a lot of the appeal. The story alternates between third person narration following key players–primarily Rowan and Citra–as the story unfolds. Excerpts from scythes’ journals add another layer exposing some of this world’s inner-workings as well as its steady decay.

Shusterman has created a compelling and fully realized distant future world with a sprawling story exploring corruption, stagnation, and what living in a utopia really means. Unfortunately most of the characters fail to live up to this setting often feeling one dimensional and flat. One could argue that is the natural result of living in a world free of conflict and challenge, but that caveat doesn’t make them any more interesting to read about.

The final act of Scythe picks up a lot with increased tension, better pacing, and numerous twists even if the characters, in a lot of ways, fail to make truly key changes. I’m still not sure if I’ll knuckle through the rest of the trilogy. Recommended for readers who prefer  dystopias in utopian clothing and plot driven novels with a heavy dose of philosophical posturing.

Possible Pairings: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Amber & Dusk by Lyra Selene, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

We Are the Wildcats: A (Blog Tour) Review

“They already know they will never forget tonight. And it’s only just getting started.”

We Are the Wildcats by Siobhan VivianBeing a Wildcat means team first, always. It means grueling workouts, a second family, and always, always listening to Coach. It means Field Hockey, and nothing else, during the season. Sure, there are other teams at West Essex. Sure, the entire school’s mascot is the Wildcat. But when you talk about the Wildcats everyone knows you’re talking about the girls’ Field Hockey team.

After a crushing end to their last season, all of the returning girls have something to prove:

Mel didn’t come through the way she expected in their last games. She didn’t lead. Now, more than ever, she needs to show Coach and the other girls that she has what it takes to be the captain this year. She knows that starting the season off right with the annual psych-up dinner and distribution of their varsity jerseys is exactly what the team needs.

No one works harder than Phoebe on or off the field. She might have to go twice as hard to keep up with Mel’s effortless skill. But she doesn’t mind. Being a part of the team is worth it. Even after blowing out her ACL, Phoebe doesn’t regret anything she did for the team. She made her choices and it’s only a matter of time before she’s back on the field.

Ali is one of the best goalies the Wildcats have ever had. Which is why it was so shocking when she let two goals by with almost no fight in their championship game last season. Now Ali is ready to prove to herself and her team that she is ready. Even if it means facing Darlene McGuire again. Even if it means missing her nephew’s first birthday to make sure she’s at their scrimmage.

Kearson wasn’t supposed to be on the varsity team at all. But when Phoebe is injured she’s ready to step up for the team and, especially, for Phoebe. But being chosen to join the team isn’t the same as belonging on the team. Something Kearson is still struggling with at the start of the new season.

Then there are the new girls: sophomore Grace and incoming freshman Luci. Both of them know being a Wildcat is something special. But as their first night together as a team takes an unexpected turn all six girls will have to decide how to balance putting the team first with taking care of themselves in We Are the Wildcats (2020) by Siobhan Vivian.

Find it on Bookshop.

We Are the Wildcats is set over the course of twenty-four hours with chapters alternating between close third person chapters following the six characters above as they all come to terms with what really went wrong last season and Coach’s role in it. Except for Ali who is Korean-American and Luci who is half Argentine, all of the characters are described as white.

Vivan delivers a tense story of friendship, team camaraderie, and intersectional feminism as each character tries to reconcile the love they feel for their sport and their team with what is increasingly clear is a toxic relationship with their coach. The suspense amps up even higher as the novel moves to its dramatic conclusion when the team finally unpacks all of Coach’s lies to realize how much he has been manipulating them and the school during his tenure.

Excellent writing and distinct personalities for the POV characters make this story immediately engrossing. Although abrupt the ending is satisfying as each girl works to find balance between supporting their teammates and putting themselves first.

We Are the Wildcats is a must read if you like your intersectional feminism with a healthy dose of sports and camaraderie.

Possible Pairings: Tumbling by Caela Carter; Every Reason We Shouldn’t by Sara Fujimura; Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry; The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Stay Sweet: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“But maybe the only things stopping her were the limits she put on herself.”

Molly Meade began making ice cream with a hand churn ice cream maker in 1944 to cheer up the girls left behind while their loved ones were fighting overseas. From those humble beginnings Molly created Meade Creamery–the local ice cream stand that makes Sand Lake a tourist destination as much as the nearby lake.

The stand is always managed by local girls and known for the easygoing atmosphere and camaraderie between the staff. Amelia and her best friend Cate have worked there together for the past three summers–it’s how they became best friends. When Amelia is chosen to be “Head Girl” and manage the stand, both girls are looking forward to a perfect summer before they start college in the fall.

Except Molly dies before the stand opens for the summer, leaving the stand’s future uncertain. Amelia agrees to stay on to help Molly’s grandnephew figure out how to run the stand and,they hope, find Molly’s secret ice cream recipes. But Grady has big plans to modernize Meade Creamery based on his college business classes that make Amelia wonder if he understands anything about Molly’s legacy.

During a summer where everything is about to change, Amelia will have to figure out how to hold onto the past while forging ahead into an uncertain future in Stay Sweet (2018) by Siobhan Vivian.

This standalone contemporary is an ode to ice cream, the bittersweet nature of changing friendships, and of course to summer itself. Written in close third person the novel follows Amelia from the start of her summer when she finds Molly’s body through a season filled with growth and unexpected changes for both Amelia and the ice cream stand.

While everyone in Amelia’s life is eager to see her move on to college, Amelia is overwhelmed by nostalgia for life in Sand Lake and everything it has represented for her growing up. That love for her hometown and the ice cream stand makes it easy to tie her own summer plans to Grady and Meade Creamery–even at the detriment of her already tenuous friendship with Cate who sees her chance for a perfect last summer with Amelia slipping away.

This character driven novel is partly a contemporary romance but it’s also a love story on a much larger scale as Amelia discovers her passion, the strength of truly solid friendships, and yes a bit of young love too.

Stay Sweet is as sweet as the ice cream served at Meade Creamery. Come for the summery vibe, the romance, and the ice cream; stay for the solid themes of feminism, entrepreneurship, and female friendship.

Possible Pairings: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, Infinite In Between by Carolyn Mackler, Save the Date by Morgan Matson, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, Small Town Hearts by Lillie Vale

You can also check out my interview with Siobhan about this novel!

We’ll Always Have Summer: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for We'll Always Have Summer by Jenny HanBelly has loved two boys in her life: Conrad and Jeremiah Fisher. Conrad was her first love and the first boy to break her heart. Jeremiah was the one who was there to pick up the pieces.

In the two years since, Jeremiah has been the perfect boyfriend. He’s fun, he’s dependable, and he has always loved Belly. But is that enough to build an entire future on?

Conrad knows he made a mistake when he pushed Belly away. He knew it even as he pushed harder. When Belly and Jeremiah announce their engagement, Conrad realizes that time is running out if he wants to try to win Belly back.

The Fisher boys have been part of Belly’s life forever. She never imagined that in choosing one of them she might have to break the other’s heart in We’ll Always Have Summer (2011) by Jenny Han.

Find it on Bookshop,

We’ll Always Have Summer is the final book in Han’s Summer trilogy which begins with The Summer I Turned Pretty and continues in It’s Not Summer Without You.

This book is narrated by Belly with a few chapters from Conrad. My only complaint is I wish we had more from him because it was so fascinating to finally see things from his point of view.

After Jeremiah won me over in book two, I wasn’t sure what to expect for the end of the trilogy. That I couldn’t decide how I wanted this love triangle to shake out speaks volumes to Jenny Han’s strengths as an author and how well-developed all of these characters become by the end of the series.

I always know I’m enjoying a series when it becomes impossible to choose a favorite book. I loved meeting these characters in book one, and I loved the way book two flipped everything I thought I knew upside down. But it might be this final book that has become my favorite as I think about the way things finally come together for Belly.

We’ll Always Have Summer is the perfect conclusion to what’s become a surprise favorite series. Come for the swoony romance and suspenseful love triangle, stay for the sweet ode to summer and growing up. A highly recommended series.

Possible Pairings: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen, The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon,Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian, The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg

It’s Not Summer Without You: A Review

cover art for It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny HanBeing with Conrad was supposed to make everything better, but instead it’s one more thing that’s fallen apart in the aftermath of Susannah getting sick again.

Belly doesn’t know who she is without summers at Cousins Beach. She doesn’t know what to make of Conrad’s apathy or the distance that’s grown between them since last summer.

In a year where so many things have changed, Belly isn’t sure if she can keep pining for Conrad. All she really knows is that when Jeremiah calls to tell her that Conrad has disappeared, she has to help find him in It’s Not Summer Without You (2010) by Jenny Han.

Find it on Bookshop.

It’s Not Summer Without You is the second book in Han’s Summer trilogy which begins in The Summer I Turned Pretty.

Belly narrates most of this book with a few chapters interspersed from Jeremiah’s point of view. Belly spends so much of this series focused on Conrad that it was interesting to see more of Jeremiah’s perspective.

With the addition of Jeremiah’s chapters and the story shifting away from Cousins, all of the characters are more developed here. The tension between Belly and both Fisher boys is palpable as all three try to reconcile themselves to the loss of the summer cocoon that used to bind them together.

It’s Not Summer Without You is a melancholy installment but the series is stronger because of it as another layer of depth is added to the story. Han takes the familiar elements from The Summer I Turned Pretty and inverts them to make this an entirely new reading experience.

It’s Not Summer Without You is, of course, a must-read for fans of the series and as much of a page-turner as you’re likely to find in a breezy contemporary–let’s just say I gasped more than once as I made my way to the end of this book!

Possible Pairings: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen, The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon,Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian, The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg

The Summer I Turned Pretty: A Review

cover art for The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny HanBelly’s life has always been measured in summers. Of course she and her brother have school the rest of the year, she has friends, she has an entire life. But summer has always been the important thing because summer means it’s time to return to Cousins Beach and the house her family shares with the Fishers.

Belly’s mom and Susannah Fisher have been friends for decades and Belly can’t think of anything more natural than spending every summer in Cousins with Susannah and her sons, Conrad and Jeremiah.

As the youngest, Belly is used to being left out or made fun of by the boys. But that’s never made her love her summers, or Conrad, any less. Almost as soon as they arrive, Belly knows that this summer is going to be different. She can feel it in the air, see it in way Conrad and Jeremiah look at her like she’s someone totally new. But every summer, even what promises to be a perfect one, has to end in The Summer I Turned Pretty (2009) by Jenny Han.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Summer I Turned Pretty is the first book in Han’s Summer trilogy which continues with It’s Not Summer Without You and We’ll Always Have Summer.

Han’s prose is as gentle and comforting as a warm summer breeze as Belly narrates this story and shares flashbacks from some of her favorite summer memories.

The Summer I Turned Pretty is an emotional roller coaster as readers join Belly on all of the ups and downs in what becomes a pivotal summer. This book does double duty laying the groundwork for the rest of the trilogy while also offering a contained story as Belly tries to make sense of growing up, her ever-present (painfully obvious) feelings for Conrad, and the fact that summers may not stay the same for her family or the Fishers for much longer.

The Summer I Turned Pretty should be required reading for anyone who is a fan of contemporary fiction, romance, and summertime. If, like me, you first discovered Jenny because of her Lara Jean books (which begin with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before), be sure to loop back to this series because it is just as sweet, just as romantic, and maybe even more epic with one of my favorite love triangles of all time. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen, The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon,Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian, The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg

Save the Date: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“These memories, I was now realizing, had never been mine. They’d never been real, just ink and paper that I’d somehow folded into my real life, a revisionist history that I’d bought without a second thought.”

cover art for Save the Date by Morgan MatsonCharlie has always been proud to be a Grant. Not everyone gets to say their family inspired a beloved comic strip like her mother’s, Grant Central Station.

Charlie has been looking forward to the weekend of her big sister’s wedding for months. Finally, she’ll get to hang out with her siblings all at once without any distractions before the wedding and before her parents sell the family home.

But even before the big day, things start to go wrong. The wedding planner is on the run. The house alarm won’t stop going off. A shelter dropped off a dog for when Good Morning America talks with Charlie’s mom about ending her comic strip after twenty-five years. Then Mike, who has been estranged from the family for the last eighteen months, suddenly decides he does want to come home for the wedding. And that’s all before the guests start to arrive and the groom’s suit goes missing. Not to mention the wedding cake disaster.

Charlie is already having a hard time processing the sale of the house and starting college in the fall. She isn’t sure how to cope with all of these other problems. Pining after her longtime crush and helping Bill, the new wedding planner’s cute nephew, problem solve are both good distractions. But after she gets through the wedding, Charlie still has to decide how she’s going to get through the rest of her life when it feels like nothing stays the same in Save the Date (2018) by Morgan Matson.

Matson’s latest standalone contemporary is an absolute delight. The novel starts with a cast of characters and also features fun chapter titles and key comic strips from Grant Central Station. Despite its length the madcap shenanigans and pacing of this story–set over one short weekend–make Save the Date a quick and utterly entertaining read. (It might also be my favorite Matson novel to date!)

Save the Date features a true ensemble cast filled with characters who are as memorable as they are lovable. I would happily read a book any and all of the other Grant siblings (or long suffering paper girl Sarah Stephens). Matson makes this large cast shine in scenes filled with snappy dialog and witty banter while making sure every character is worthy of their own story.

Charlie’s family home, the site of numerous wedding mishaps and much drama, also feels like another character as evocative descriptions help readers understand Charlie’s grief over losing this key part of her youth.

While Save the Date is ostensibly a story about a wedding where everything that can go wrong does, Charlie’s character arc is about a lot more as she comes to terms with growing up and realizes that her longtime crush and even her family memories have realities that don’t quite match up with her idealized memories and hopes.

Save the Date is a fast-paced, hilarious novel filled with big personalities and memorable moments. A solid story about accepting change, embracing imperfections, and making peace with life’s complexities. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli, Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett, Once and For All by Sarah Dessen, 10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, Love and Other Train Wrecks by Leah Konen, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Truly Madly Royally by Debbie Rigaud, Bookish Boyfriends: A Date With Darcy by Tiffany Schmidt, Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian

Fake Blood: A Graphic Novel Review

cover art for Fake Blood by Whitney GardnerAJ didn’t grow over the summer. He didn’t have any exciting adventures. It feels like he’s starting seventh grade exactly the same while his best friends are charging full speed ahead.

AJ’s crush on Nia Winters is in the same place too–standing totally still. Nia is cool and interesting and obsessed with vampires so AJ is pretty sure she’d never like someone as vanilla as he is.

After they are paired for a project on Transylvania, AJ hatches the perfect plan to win Nia over: Pretend to be a vampire! Changing his hair and attitude to be more like a vampire gets Nia’s attention–but not the way he imagined when she reveals that she doesn’t like vampires. She slays them.

While AJ tries to convince his crush that she should hang out with him instead of staking him, both Nia and AJ realize that there are bigger threats lurking in Spoons Middle School in Fake Blood (2018) by Whitney Gardner.

Fake Blood is Gardner’s graphic novel and middle grade debut.

Fake Blood is a delightful send up of some familiar vampire tropes including charming nods to Buffy and Twilight. Gardner’s full color artwork is vibrant with clear panels and distinct characters. AJ’s transformation from seventh grade boy to vampire is handled especially well with a lot of visual cues adding to the story.

Fake Blood is a funny and authentic story about embracing individuality and learning that doing things your own way is often the best way to get through life. And, of course, it’s also filled with tips for fighting vampires–whoever they may be. Recommended for readers who looking for something a little funnier and a little quirkier than your typical paranormal romance fare.

Possible Pairings: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol, All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson, All Summer Long by Hope Larson, Goldie Vance by Hope Larson and Brittney Williams, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell, Slayer by Kiersten White

Emergency Contact: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

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

cover art for Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. ChoiPenny Lee is a college freshman at the University of Texas in Austin. She’s eager to get away from the drama that always seems to surround her mom who is, sadly, super hot and super clueless about the attention she attracts from sketchy guys. High school was fine but Penny knows that college is going to be her real chance to shine as she starts taking English classes and pursues her longtime dream to become a published author.

Sam Becker dropped out of college when he couldn’t afford it. He’s twenty-one and manages a coffee shop where he is in charge of all the baking and has a room upstairs. He’s taking an online course to get back on track with his goal of becoming a documentary filmmaker and dreading the arrival of his “niece” Jude who is about to start her freshman year of college. Sam’s still trying to piece his life together post-breakup but he’s getting there. At least until his Instagram famous ex (aka Liar) drops a bombshell.

When Sam has a panic attack in the middle of the street it’s Penny–Jude’s new roommate–who finds him and talks him down. She’s the one who wants him to text her when he gets home and, maybe most importantly, she’s the one that suggests they could be each other’s emergency contact.

As they start texting all the time, Penny and Sam realize they might have more in common than they thought. Their friendship helps both of them step outside of their comfort zones. But neither of them is sure if they’ll ever be ready to take the biggest leap by bringing their virtual relationship offline and into the real world in Emergency Contact (2018) by Mary H. K. Choi.

Emergency Contact is Choi’s debut novel. It has received two starred reviews as well as a glowing write up in the New York Times. The story alternates between chapters written in close third person following Penny and Sam along with the expected sections of text messages and emails.

As the title suggests, the entirety of the book revolves around support systems. How do you build a support system from scratch? What happens when the people you thought you could rely on let you down? And perhaps even more troubling: What happens when the person you never thought you could count on becomes a lifeline?

Penny and Sam are authentic, flawed protagonists. I’ve started calling them lovable train wrecks when I talk about this book. They don’t have all the answers. They may not have any of the answers (a realization that is almost as enlightening for Penny in terms of her relationship with her mother as, you know, actual enlightenment). But they both persevere, strive, and ultimately learn how to go after what they want–things they only accomplish thanks to confidence gained through their friendship.

I say friendship because while a lot of this story plays out against the backdrop of whether or not Penny and Sam will get together, the real meat of this novel are the friendships that both Penny and Sam build (with each other and with other people) as they try to survive this crazy thing called life. You can cut the romantic tension in this story with a knife, but first Choi carefully builds up Penny and Sam’s friendship. Both of them have to grow a lot and learn to care about themselves before they can start to care about someone else—character arcs which Choi expertly portrays throughout the novel.

Before meeting Sam, Penny is used to having a running internal dialog of all the things she wants to say–especially to people who try to belittle her or think their microaggressions and other racist remarks about Penny’s Korean heritage aren’t a big deal. Thanks to the freedom of being away from home for the first time and also having someone who genuinely supports her, Penny is finally able to speak up. She can tell her roommate Jude’s best friend that her racist remarks aren’t okay. She can admit what her French tutor did–what she never even told her Mom. And she can also learn how to move past those things instead of stewing in self-doubt and regret.

Sam, meanwhile, has been stagnating for quite some time. His life is a disaster and he’s used to it–especially when his ex-girlfriend announces that she is pregnant triggering Sam’s first panic attack. With Penny’s support and the knowledge that she cares, Sam realizes the first step in making better life choices isn’t waiting for things to change. Instead, it’s time for Sam to accept that his parents are incapable of being there for him—and haven’t been for some time. It’s time to take action to change things by pursuing his passions and standing up to his ex-girlfriend instead of letting her steamroll him yet again.

Emergency Contact is authentic and sardonic as it follows these two unlikely friends who fear connection almost as much as they crave it. This tension is the driving force for both the characters and the plot. Choi expertly uses close third person perspective and language to amplify that tension and to explore its limits as Penny and Sam try to figure out how to relate to each other even while, internally, they feel hopelessly inadequate by comparison.

(During one of their first “in real life” encounters Penny bemoans her casual outfit and generally messy appearance while being completely fascinated–and attracted–by Sam’s glasses. Sam, meanwhile, is completely self-conscious about his glasses and trying to avoid openly ogling Penny. A push and pull that repeats throughout the novel and perfectly captures the dynamic between these two characters.)

Emergency Contact is a sparkling debut about taking chances and dreaming big. A timely story with a singular voice sure to win over even the most cynical among us, Emergency Contact is an exemplar of what a great contemporary novel can look like.

Possible Pairings: The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhatena, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Teach Me to Forget by Erica M. Chapman, Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark, A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Analee in Real Life by Janelle Milanes, Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell