In Mary H.K. Choi’s debut novel, Emergency Contact, most of the conversations between Penny, the novel’s protagonist, and Sam, her friend/love interest/soul mate, take place via texts. It’s a premise that in lesser hands could flop, but Choi’s writing sparkles, gleams, and glistens. Emergency Contact is a true delight.
Sam and Penny are unique in that their relationship, for the most part, unfurls through the constant communication technology affords—where every conversation just continues, uninterrupted, without a real beginning, middle or end. The book itself resides firmly in a liminal space betwen YA and adult fiction—because the characters are young-ish, the thinking goes, this book is ostensibly meant for the youth. But the book transcends genre, like any well written story does.
I’ve long admired Choi’s writing and was dazzled with how her unique voice and point of view came through so strongly through the voice of Penny—a Korean-American woman whose Korean-American identity is not the thing that defines her. There is no hint of a “race journey” in Penny’s narrative—her mother is not a knuckle-rapping tyrant who forces her to play violin—but Penny is aware of her race. Still, it felt refreshing to read a book about an Asian woman where her race is not the single thing that defines her.
I sat down with Choi after picking out a bevy of Asian snacks to talk about Asian identity and whether or not its current “cool” status is good, bad, or just fine for the culture.
Video: Producer, Phoebe Bradford