Book Reviews

Reading Rec: Emergency Contact

There are few books I give five stars to, but this one has made its way to the top of my list for best books of 2018.

emergency contact

Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi tells the story of two misfits, Penny and Sam, as they accidentally embark on an unlikely texting friendship. Penny is starting college with a Mary Poppins bag full of supplies and a dream of becoming a writer. Well, that and enjoying an escape from her overly extroverted, overly involved but loving mother, Celeste. Sam’s life is a mess. He’s dealing with his break-up with Lorraine, an Instagram star who was the best and worst thing in his life. When Sam’s life is turned upside down, he runs into Penny, they become emergency contacts– the one person you can always talk to when life is going crazy.

This book… I haven’t enjoyed a book this much in a while, and the main reason I enjoyed it was because the characters were so vulnerable. Because Penny and Sam use texting to communicate rather than face-to-face interaction, they are more open with each other. They talk about their anxieties, their pasts, and their hopes for the future without the judgmental gaze of another person present. The story is written in narrative as well as texting conversations, and I’m sure for some that will be off-putting, especially if you aren’t a texter, but it makes the conversations flow with an easy back and forth and also distinguishes between real life and the screen.

Penny and Sam are awesomely awkward. They aren’t the cool kids on campus or even friends with the cool kids. They’re messed up in their own way and each character is an individual with issues of their own. Choi does a fantastic job of making her young adults very human without turning them into caricatures.

One of my favorite aspects of the book is that it isn’t really a romance but it still kind of is. What I mean is that the story focuses on the platonic friendship between Penny and Sam through most of the book, and a platonic relationship between male and female characters is so rare. There’s a lot of will they, won’t they, but this book is more about human connection and trust than kissing and hook-ups. If you have read this blog before, you know I love romance, but sometimes it’s nice to step away from passion and fire, especially when discussing new adult or young adult stories where love and sex are held on a pedestal over the foundation of a stable relationship, which should ultimately be friendship.

I may be a little biased because my relationship with my partner began much like Penny and Sam’s, but if you like college-age stories with awkwardly charming characters who struggle and grow, then Emergency Contact should be at the top of your to-be-read pile.

You can pick up a copy of Emergency Contact here.

Personal Life

Burn Out and the Grad School Grind

Grad school has begun again. Well, technically it began last week, but today marks my second week of classes. As much as I love my MFA program and the people in it, I hate the stress that comes with going to school. It sets me on edge and raises my anxiety, which means more headaches, stomach problems, and overall fatigue.

Back to school time can be very trying for people with anxiety. New people, new schedules, homework, deadlines, readings. It’s a difficult balancing act without having to add psyching yourself up to deal with people. Usually, I end up listening to music that pumps me up on my way to the university. It helps immensely, especially if you have another playlist that calms you that you can listen to on the way home. That transition time can allow you to decompress and not lash out at relatives when you arrive home. I still do it once in a while when a class has been particularly stressful, but it’s a lot less frequent than when I just went through the motions.

During this time of year, it’s very easy to get lost in the muddle of assignments and readings, but you need to remember to take time out for you. Your body is a reservoir that needs refilling, and if you get too low from stress and work, you will have a meltdown that will take time to recover from. It’s like a car battery. If you run a car for a while, then turn it off, and come back a few hours or a day later, the battery automatically refills itself, but if you leave a car on for three days straight, the battery will die, and it will take multiple jolts from another car to restart it. That’s what happens after a meltdown or if you let it get to low and you burn out.

Take time for you. Finish your assignments, get your readings done, create a schedule, but take time to do the things you enjoy. Don’t get buried in your work, or you will be burnt out by midterms. I know the reaction, I was there as an undergrad, “Take time for me? Are you crazy? Do you see the pile of crap I have to do? When am I supposed to fit that in?”

You can, trust me. When you have a lot of classes and assignments, you would be amazed how much a whiteboard calendar can help in terms of organization. Make lists of what you have to get done for the day or week. As you do them, cross them off, but leave time for you at least a few days a week. Go for a cup of coffee with a friend or take a trip to the mall. Get out of your normal space and do something you love. If you don’t like going out, read something you want to read, watch a few episodes (few- not a whole night’s worth unless you finished your work) of a show you enjoy. Do something that will make you happy and decompress.

It’s much easier to refill a half-full bucket than an empty one. Know your limits, know what you need to accomplish, and know that you matter. You aren’t a machine, despite what others may think.

Personal Life · Writing

Portrait of the Artist: From Biology Major to MFA

write quote

Last week I was gruching about a scene that was giving me trouble to my aunt, and she said, “You know, you don’t have to do this if it isn’t fun anymore.”  For a moment, I just stared at her.  Just because I’m complaining about writing being difficult doesn’t mean I want to throw in the towel.  The idea of stopping never even crossed my mind.

As with many writers, I don’t write because I want to please my fans or make money off it but because I feel compelled to.  It’s a compulsion, an itch that can only be silenced by reading and writing.  During the semester when graduate school has taken over my life, I feel the unmistakeable misery of not being able to scratch that itch and write (usually I end up foregoing reading for class and write a bit throughout the day).

From the time I was about ten years old, I have been writing stories. Over the years, the amount I write has waxed and waned depending on my circumstances, but it has been present over the last thirteen years.  When I was in high school, I had a few lousy English teachers who killed my love of writing and reading to the point that I never thought of becoming an English major in college. Creative writing was kept under the wraps since I didn’t write about teenage-appropriate topics like sports, romance, and angst.  If the guidance counselor saw my stories full of epic battles or the one about a young woman who deals with her friend’s suicide attempt, I would probably would have been sent to counseling.  Somehow I feared college would be the same.

  It wasn’t though.  I went into college as a biology major with dreams of becoming a doctor who specialized in reconstructive surgery, and honestly, I did well in my biology classes and even earned an award from the department.  In my freshman year, I met a wonderful professor who happened to be the head of the English department.  She took me under her wing and nurtured my insecure talent until finally in the second half of my sophomore year I chose to double major in English as well.  During my time as an undergraduate, I contributed to the school’s literary magazine as well as worked on it, was a writing tutor, and spoke at two literature conferences (one on scifi and fantasy and one on Medieval literature).

Much to my father’s dismay, becoming a doctor faded away the moment a Norton anthology was put in my hands.  I finished my degree in biology but immediately applied to a graduate school with an MFA program in creative writing.  While biology could have provided me with a stable income should I have pursued it, I knew I would have been miserable.  I needed to write, I needed to read. It pulled me and compelled me and was the one thing I did that felt completely natural.  Call me hedonistic, but my life has been guided by what makes me happy and so far it has worked for me.  My mom has a job that pays well, but she isn’t truly happy there.  If I see how doing what is expected can lead to misery, why should I follow the trail of money if I do not have to?

My question is, do we do what makes us happy or do we try to live up to the status quo?