Book Review: Permanent Record by Mary H. K. Choi

TW: Racism I've heard nothing but good things about Permanent Record , and from the interviews I've seen with Mary H.K...

TW: Racism

I've heard nothing but good things about Permanent Record, and from the interviews I've seen with Mary H.K. Choi, she's basically the coolest human. So I had to snatch up her sophomore YA novel from Book of the Month. And I haven't read Emergency Contact yet, but absolutely plan. Also, her novel covers are so dreamy.

Pablo is a college drop-out and works the overnight shift at his local bodega. His mom's a doctor; his dad has a new hobby-job every week; his younger brother is in trouble for his questionable side hustle; he is in massive debt. When Leanna Smart, an ex-Disney star (and basically Selena Gomez meets Ariana Grande), enters the bodega in the middle of his night shift, they hit it off quickly and he soon gets wrapped up in the lifestyles of the rich and the famous, leaving his regular-guy life behind.

This book was so precious, but also very good on a deeper level. The plot itself is a bit corny and far-reaching. I mean, sure "regular" people can certainly date rich and famous people. But these people are so witty and their conversations just seem so... unreal? I don't know, it was precious in the book, and I loved it. It was just a little outrageous at times. Also, Pablo is frustrating and seems to act out a lot. He seemed so immature, which I get, but I would expect his actions as a high school-aged kid, but he was a bit older. So I was just so frustrated with him all the time. I hated the way he acted towards his dad, who was just a genuinely good person. Honestly, Pab was freaking incredibly selfish and while he started out very likeable, I ended up finding him pretty insufferable.

What I really liked, and what the meat of the story was for me,  were his thoughts and concerns about college and his deeply vulnerable sadness. As an academic advisor I have literally never seen a fictional book refer to an academic advisor before. I've seen faculty advisors and conversations with administrators, but never a literal "academic advisor," so that was incredibly exciting. But he talked a lot about his issues with the costs of college versus having no clue what you want to do and a lack of intentional and unconditional support. Those pieces of the book were the ones that stuck with me the most because these are real, critical concerns that advisors are often working to address and try to alleviate. So I appreciate Choi so much for including that in her book.

There were also scenes in the book where the characters are like "I don't know why I'm acting like this, and I catch myself doing it, but I can't do better." I thought it really captured the realness of some mental health concerns, though I felt those weren't really addressed as such.

As for Leanna, I wanted to like her. Truly. But as an A-list celebrity, she came with her own set of issues and problems. I would've loved to have chapters from her prospective so I could've understood her on a deeper level. But the way the book was written, I only ever saw Pablo's interactions with her, which felt like a disservice to her character. I think deep-down, she was good. As a reader, I just never really got solid confirmation on that.

"You've got to let people mess up and you've still got to help them. You have to talk to them and support them while they make decisions, even if they're the wrong ones. That's how people learn." -Permanent Record, Mary H.K. Choi

The connections to college were what really pulled this book together for me. It connected me to the story on such a deep level. Overall, I felt the romance and plot were corny and sticky sweet, but it was a fun rom-com to connect with. I felt there was a complexity to the story that I really resonated with, but I struggled to support or understand Pablo's choices. The characters throughout the book are flawed and real in their characteristics, not to mention to cast is totally diverse. I would definitely watch this book as a film or series. Choi's writing style is effortless and fun to read. I laughed out loud several times through the course of the book. I would definitely read more novels from her.

Goodreads rating: ★★★★☆

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