Title: Permanent Record
Author: Mary H.K. Choi
Summary: On paper, college dropout Pablo Rind doesn’t have a whole lot going for him. His graveyard shift at a twenty-four-hour deli in Brooklyn is a struggle, and he’s up to his eyeballs in credit card debt. Pop juggernaut Leanna Smart has enough social media followers to populate whole continents, but her life is a queasy blur of private planes, step-and-repeats, aspirational hotel rooms, and strangers screaming for her just to notice them. When Leanna and Pablo meet at 5:00 a.m. at a bodega in the dead of winter, it’s absurd to think they’d be A Thing. But as they discover who they are, who they want to be, and how to defy the deafening expectations of everyone else, Lee and Pab turn to each other. Which, of course, is when things get properly complicated.
After not really liking Mary H.K. Choi’s debut, Emergency Contact, I was hesitant to read Permanent Record. But almost everything I disliked about Choi’s first book—the dual pov, the lack of character growth or introspection, how lonely and self-absorbed I found main character Penny—was nowhere to be found in her second.
This time, the entire book is told from the perspective of Pablo, a twenty-year-old college drop-out who works the overnight shift at a bodega, doesn’t really get along with his parents, and is so in denial about being in debt that he hides overdue bill notices in his bureau. (By the way, Choi nails his voice.) Although Pablo starts the novel in the same emotional place as Penny, he doesn’t end there, and his personal growth is what gives Permanent Record all of its heart.
Pablo is pretty much the worst when we meet him, blaming everything that’s wrong with his life on someone (or something) else and wallowing in self-pity. And then he has a meet-cute with mega pop star Leanna Smart and is literally whisked off to Los Angeles and Singapore for romantic weekends. Except Permanent Record isn’t a love story—but that’s okay because you don’t really want it to be one. No matter how much Pablo wishes things with Leanna would work out a certain way, it’s the fact that they practically blow up in his face that gets him to realize how dumb he’s been—with his brother, his parents, his friends, his job, his education, and himself.
And that was what made the book for me. (Although apparently I still initially only gave it three stars? 🤷♀️) Life is inherently messy, and sometimes I want the books I read to be messy, too. (And Permanent Record is so, so messy, y’all.) But the fact that Pablo actually learns some shit along the way? That’s what makes an okay book into a good one.