By Mary H.K. Choi
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.
I really liked this book! I generally enjoy reading about the college/university experience, so I was pulled into Penny’s story right away.
I saw so much of myself in Penny that I found myself almost immediately empathizing with her. And my heart went out to Sam and his situation. I thought both POVs were equally strong and I loved seeing the way Sam and Penny’s relationship developed.
I didn’t totally understand Penny’s antagonism towards her mother, and as much as I couldn’t quite wrap my head around that, I did appreciate the exploration of that relationship. There was so much more going on in this story than the romance: there was Sam’s relationship with his ex, and with his mother; and there was Penny’s relationship with her mother, and with her new roommate Jude and Jude’s BFF Mallory. These characters all intertwined around Sam and Penny’s developing relationship and while it did occasionally feel like too much was going on for me, I really appreciated that there was more to the story than just whatever was going on between Penny and Sam.
This was a book club pick that was fun to discuss, and made me want to read the rest of Mary H.K. Choi’s books (her newest one, Yolk, just came out last week). Recommended!