Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi; Simon & Schuster, 391 pages ($17.99) Ages 14 and up.
Two lonely, damaged souls emerge from their solitude to connect - almost entirely by text message - in this whip-smart, hilarious and poignant love story, the debut novel by Mary H.K. Choi, a culture correspondent for "Vice News Tonight" on HBO. The novel unfolds, in alternating chapters, from the perspectives of Penny, a freshman at the University of Austin who dreams of being a writer, and 21-year-old Sam, a formerly homeless, aspiring documentary filmmaker who lives above the coffee shop where he works. When Penny runs into Sam suffering a panic attack on a public sidewalk and helps him through it, she insists that he add her number to his phone as his emergency contact in case of future panic attacks. From that point, a SmartPhone, text message friendship develops, morphing into an awkward romance as they reveal their deepest hurts to each other, truths they've never shared with anyone else. Penny is smitten from the start, but torments herself looking at Instagram photos of Sam with his beautiful, on-and-off girlfriend, Lorraine. Sam is distracted by Lorraine, and also by the report that Penny has a boyfriend. Penny and Sam are two of the most vividly drawn, appealing characters in YA literature to come along in a while.
Choi's prose is to be savored: "Penny would rather eat a pound of hair than reveal her true emotions." Or "Regular Penny only ever took photos bearing the expression of someone attempting to pass a kidney stone the size of a chair." Or a description of college housing for the uber-wealthy: "It functioned as a dorm, though it more closely resembled luxury apartments that served as tax shelters for Russian oligarchs. Its inhabitants were affluent enough that college degrees were a quaint diversion, a short-lived pretense that they were just like everybody else. It was rich-kid rumspringa, that rite of passage for Amish people, except instead of living with electricity, the wealthy scions slummed by majoring in journalism."
Along with the biting wit and sharp observations, Choi's marvelous novel offers a perceptive exercise on the divide between digital and in-person communication - and how daunting it can be to "escalate" to that face to face encounter. In a press release from the publisher, Choi said: "I wanted to explore this idea of how we're constantly surrounded by friends, followers, family and famous people but that it's still possible to be alone. Still, despite technology trending towards speed and volume, I truly believe you only ever need one person - one portal; one tab - to alleviate that loneliness, someone who sees you...That's your emergency contact."
World Make Way: New Poems Inspired by Art from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins; Abrams Books for Young Readers, 48 pages ($16.99).
Inspired by the Leonardo Da Vinci quote: "Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen," this lovely collection of original poetry, commissioned from a wide range of poets adds a magical new perspective to 18 selected works in the Met collection. The book title is a line from the first poem, Marilyn Singer's whimsical "Paint Me," inspired by Gustav Klimt's " Mada Primavesi, 1912-13," in which the subject of the painting addresses the artist: "Hurry up and paint me. I have things to do///I'm tired of this dress, these flowers..." Lockport native Cynthia Cotten contributes "Resistance," a stirring declaration of rebellion ("I will fight until no fight remains") inspired by Rosa Bonheur's "The Horse Fair, 1852-55." The artists represented include Mary Cassatt and Winslow Homer, and such interesting choices as a painted plaster fragment from Egypt 1390-1353 B.C., inspiration for Irene Latham's "This Is the Hour," a lovely song between duck and river, and "The Elephant Clock, 1315," a folio from illustrated manuscript "Book of the Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices" by al-Jazari, inspiration for a lovely poem "It's All Magic" by Naomi Shihab Nye: "We think the days are ours, but ask a flower. How much time do you have?" This could be a marvelous teaching guide, inspiring children to write their own poetry inspired by art.