After breaking out last year in YA with her texting-based romance Emergency Contact, which went on to become a New York Times best-seller, author Mary H.K. Choi is back with her follow-up: Permanent Record.
Keeping focused on digital habits in the current era, Choi explores how social media influences relationships every day in her new romance, while also offering an authentic, witty window into modern college life. Here’s the official synopsis: “After a year of college, Pablo is working at his local 24-hour deli, selling overpriced snacks to brownstone yuppies. He’s dodging calls from the student loan office and he has no idea what his next move is. Leanna Smart’s life so far has been nothing but success. Age eight: Disney Mouseketeer; Age fifteen: first #1 single on the US pop chart; Age seventeen, *tenth* #1 single; and now, at Age nineteen…life is a queasy blur of private planes, weird hotel rooms, and strangers asking for selfies on the street. When Leanna and Pab randomly meet at 4:00 a.m. in the middle of a snowstorm in Brooklyn, they both know they can’t be together forever. So, they keep things on the down-low and off Instagram for as long as they can. But it takes about three seconds before the world finds out…”
Choi has shared with EW an exclusive preview of Permanent Record, in the form of an excerpt (which hints at the book’s glorious nods to foodie culture) as well as a cover reveal. A bonus: In addition to the official jacket, you can see the case cover, which reveals the intricacies of the design (with art by ohgigue). Read on below. Permanent Record publishes Sept. 3 and is available for pre-order.
Excerpt from Permanent Record, by Mary H. K. Choi
I watch the girl on four small screens. Late-night bodega visitors are often mysterious, and this one is no exception. I’m loopy enough that I wonder if I’ve willed her to appear. I’m not a tinfoil-hat paranormal goon like Miggs, but there is this thing that happened to me in sixth grade. I was bored out of my mind and channeling every ounce of my mental energy to tell—no compel—Mr. Miller in biology to sit down and miss his chair. You should have seen my face when it happened. That split second made me believe in God, UFOs, ghosts, and reincarnation all at once. This dude goes to sit and misses. At the last second he grabs his desk with both hands and crashes into the seat with a bang that rings out like a shot. We laughed in the moment, but it was that surprised laughter where you’re confused about whether or not something bad is happening. I was roaring because I thought I was a freakshow psychic spoonbender.
I don’t know what this girl’s story is, but she’s definitely not from the neighborhood. She passes cleaning supplies, toilet paper, coffee filters, and garbage bags—anything you’d need for a nearby apartment—and heads straight for the snacks. She’s walking carefully, and I see that her shoes are shiny white boots that are split, cloven in front like a pig’s hoof. Beneath her oversize jacket is a Morticia Addams–type dress with jagged spikes on the tail. She could easily play the villain in an eighties space-action movie.
No question she’s attractive. I don’t need to look at the rest of her to know that. It’s the way she carries herself. It’s the same way you can tell when a group of girls are hot as a mass. Hot laughter is a thing too. The hotter the group of girls, the more seductive their laughter. Sure, the laughter can be annoying or scary, intimidating maybe, but that’s its own thing.
She keeps twitchily checking her phone and looking over her shoulder, but by the time she positions herself in front of the ice cream she’s locked in. Our ice cream selection is captivating. I’m personally responsible for orders, so I should know.
Whatever her provenance, I’m a fan. She peers through the glass for flavors instead of leaving the door hanging open. My mom calls this noonchi, which is Korean for “situational awareness” or “considerateness.” People who lack it keep their backpacks on in crowded trains and refuse to slow down when they’re walking behind old people. Which is to say they’re a–holes. This girl has noonchi. She’s polite.
When she unloads her haul in front of me it’s highly respectable. She’s probably stoned.
Salt and vinegar kettle crisps. This is the best flavor hands down. Sweet Maui Onion being the runner-up (Hawaiian brand only—not Deep River or Kettle. Sorry).
Sour gummy cola bottles, which to me personally is tartness overkill with the chips. As someone who’s housed an entire pound of Sour Patch Kids at the movies after salt and vinegar chips, I can testify to this.
Artisanal oatmeal chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. (No Halo Top fake-out garbage.)
Peanut butter chips and white chocolate chunks from the baking aisle, and this is where my heart skips a beat, because she’s also managed to dig up a squeeze bottle of Magic Shell, the chocolate that hardens when you put it on ice cream. We only stock a few bottles because the dairy-free organic off-brand sells better even though its hardening capabilities are suspect.
A resealable sleeve of sliced provolone. The most unobtrusive, approachable yet classy snacking cheese in my book.
“Hi,” she says in a surprisingly raspy voice.
“Hey,” I say, ringing her up and bagging. “Strong selection. Valentine’s Day party?”
“Ha.” She laughs dryly. “Very much the opposite. . . .” She reaches over to pull the candy out of the bag. “Plastic bags hurt my heart . . . ,” she says, smoothing the bag on the counter. “I’ll carry it out.”
She smiles quickly. Ruefully.
Ugh. She’s probably throwing a breakup party.
“Sorry,” I stammer. “I mean, not for the bag, although apologies to the planet. . . . Sorry for mentioning Valentine’s Day. I don’t know your situation. Or life.”
“Oh,” she says, and smiles, actually seeing me now. “It’s fine. I’m not sad about it. At all.” She tilts her head at the food. “It’s a f—ing celebration, tbqh.”
I can’t believe she tee-bee-que-aytch’d me.
And then, because I’m this guy, “Can I make a suggestion?”
She eyes me. Leery. As though she senses my cooped-up feral energy and has zero idea where this is headed. “Sure.”
“I admire your snack choices across the board. However, if you’re doing salt and vinegar—which is an excellent way to go,” I begin. “Are you completely satisfied to go sour-sour with the cola bottles? Just putting it out there that we have regular bottles, twin cherries . . . We also carry gummy frogs if you want that mallowy toothsomeness with a hit of surreptitious peach—or, and I know this is wild, but hear me out. . . .” I hold my hands up. “Would you be open to going sour cola but pairing it with Zapp’s Voodoo for the sweetness even though I can’t tell if the chips are somehow racist. . . .”
She tilts her head and furrows her brow. There’s something about all the makeup and this shimmery s–t on her face that makes her appear CGI. Objectively attractive but giving the impression that if you wiped the layer off it’d be smooth like an egg. That there’d be no features underneath.
“Sir,” she says. “Hold the phone. Do you mean to inform me that those Haribo frogs are peach flavored?”
Hold the phone?
Okay. She’s super cute.
I nod, clear my throat. “Yeah.”
“Surreptitious is right,” she says. “Thought they were apple.”
I want to be friends with this person.
“Plus, little-known fact: the green gummy bears are strawberry,” I tell her.
Why am I still talking? I want to cringe until my spine collapses into itself. “Little-known fact: the green gummy bears are strawberry”?
If sentences could reinstate your virginity, this would be a strong contender.
“Well, blow me down,” she says, seemingly without judgment, and then hits the counter with a balled-up fist like a gavel. “Even still, I’m doubling down on sour-sour.”
“Power,” I rhyme.
She laughs and checks her pocket. Then she gives her skintight cave-witch chain-mail dress a hurried pat-down.
Her fingernails are painted the exact dark blue of her dress with two of them chipped, and her thumbnail is broken to the quick. She doesn’t have a purse, not even a tiny one, which is a surefire sign she’s not from here. Like when dudes on the train wear Adidas Sambas or Aldo sneakers—definite tourists.
“S–t,” she says, and scratches her eyebrow with her thumb. Then she sighs.
“Yeah,” she says.
I watch her glance down at her food. Deflated.
“Apple Pay?” she asks brightly, holding her phone out.
“I don’t think that’s a thing with us,” I glance at the register. “Do you know how that s–t works?”
“You know, I’ve never successfully used it before in my life? Do I wave the phone over a reader or . . . ?”
“Yeah, I don’t know.” I shrug. “Retina scan?”
“Man,” she says. “Buzzkill.”
Then she shivers violently, blowing on her hands.
She grins at me and raises her brows.
“Yeah, my powers of deduction are legendary.”
She laughs. “What are the warning signs of hypothermia?” She hugs herself tight.
My jaw hurts just looking at her chattering teeth. Her eyes are closed as if to conserve energy. “I think I’m just going to walk toward the light if that’s cool,” she says.
“Okay.” I spring into action. “Here’s what’s going to happen,” I tell her, coming around the counter, headed for the coffee machines. I pour a cup and hand it to her. “On me.”
“Thanks,” she says, drinking it black, grimacing, and then adding copious amounts of sugar and cream from the cooler. She smiles at me self-consciously and then adds even more sugar and cream and then takes another sip.
“You’re a lifesaver,” she says, smiling.
“Are you ready for the next part?”
“Go on,” she says.
“It’s kind of wild,” I warn her. “You ready?”
I grab the twenty-dollar space heater from behind the counter, kick off my slippers, step into my boots, and walk the heater as close to her as the cord allows.
“Whoa,” she says appreciatively. “Game changer.”
Okay. Up close she’s really, very, extra cute.
“Man, this is easily the best part of my evening . . . morning?” She shrugs, inspects her thumb, and then sticks it in her mouth. “Thank you.”
I pick up the ice cream and the rest of her provisions from the counter to put them back, but the prospect of disbanding such a solid selection doesn’t seem right.
“You know what?” I tell her. “Go ahead and keep this.” I gesture to the chips and candy.
I know. Crazy. But I already knew I liked this girl when I wouldn’t let her see my house shoes.
“Noooo,” she says in this theatrical way, eyes bugged, thumb still lodged in her teeth.
“Yeessssss.” I hand the Magic Shell to her. How could I bogart such joy?
“No way.” She takes another sip of coffee.
“Seriously.” I get it. New York tests you on certain days. “You’ve clearly traveled a long way . . . possibly many, many light-years.” I nod at her dress.
She laughs as I wave my hand magnanimously, channeling Brando as Vito Corleone forgiving a loan. I narrow my eyes for effect, puffed up by my own generosity.
What’s sixty short of rent when you can be a hundred?
The girl observes me. Intently. I give her a look like, I know. She sighs. We’re the exact same type of tired.
“Oh!” she exclaims. “No, wait!”
She checks a back pocket on her jacket and fishes out a credit card and slams it on the counter.
“Yes!” she proclaims.
It’s a Black Amex. The type rappers talk about and warlords never mention. The kind with no interest and no limit.
“Thank God.” She loops her arm in mine and ushers me back up to the register, resuming her position as the customer-lady who has her s–t together.
I ring her up again, arm buzzing lightly from her contact. She swipes the card reader, which beeps in protest.
“It’s a chip, I think.” Meanwhile I’ve never seen a Black Card in real life.
Who is this girl?
“Oh,” she says, taking another sip. “Well, s–t, now I have performance anxiety.”
“Here.” I reach over and hit yes before reinserting it. I catch the name: Carolina Suarez.
Carolina Suarez . . . about my age, with a Black Card.
Socialite? Gallerina? Heiress?
As I hand her the receipt our fingers touch.
“Let me ask you . . .”
“Shoot,” she says.
“How many miles did you travel last year?” There’s no way the Black Amex Centurion is a better deal than the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
“Is there a mansplain deluge in my forecast?”
“Okay, fair enough.” I stop.
“Oh, come on,” she says, cracking a smile. “The suspense might kill me.”
This and snacks are my wheelhouse. My legerdemain, my alleyway. If you’re not scamming as much money as humanly possible from institutions are you even living? Weird flex, sure, but one time I stayed on hold with the cable company for an hour because they didn’t give us Showtime for the month they said they would. I made them throw in HBO and a free ground line. I know there’s a card out there that’s a better deal than a Black Amex. You don’t go into mountains of debt without fostering a healthy obsession with credit cards that might save your ass if you qualified for them.
“So, you do travel a lot?”
“A lot,” she confirms.
“You fly with one airline?”
“Sure . . .”
“Delta? American?” She looks too classy to be on that Southwest mayhem tip. Virgin maybe, but it’s all the same now with the buyouts.
She clears her throat then, tugging her hair out from the back of her windbreaker. It’s long, in this bewitching shade of red that doesn’t exist in nature. The effect is spellbinding. She reminds me of the Little Mermaid.
That’s when I realize who she is.
I’m so dumb.
Carolina Suarez is Leanna Smart.
My heart drops into my a–hole.
Leanna Smart is in the store. My store. As in, the Disney star who went from a kids’ show about a family of rich orphaned witches trapped in a maze to a mega popstar. When he was younger, my brother Rain was obsessed with her Christmas Special, which they’d run into July.
“JetBlue?” I ribbit after what has to be an hour.
I attempt to swallow.
“You don’t fly commercial, do you?” I ask her. She knows that I’ve made her but I’m not letting on.
“I mean . . . I have . . . ,” she says as the blood thunders into my ears.
She gathers her groceries, and I take a half step back.
“So . . .”
Whatever. When am I going to see her again?
“So, do private jets really cost $300,000 to fly internationally? I’ve always wondered.”
She laughs. “Why are you so obsessed with money?”
“I guess so,” she says. “Even the ones who don’t talk about it.”
“Especially the ones who don’t talk about it.”
She goes silent.
“So, it’s money and snacks with you.”
“I contain multitudes.”
“Sounds crowded,” she says, smiling to dull the sting.
“We get by.” I smile back. Wide.
Leanna Smart cocks her head, sizing me up. “Wait, don’t I know you from somewhere?”
It’s easily the most surreal question a famous person can ask you.
Then she claps her hands.
“You’re that kid.”
I hate this part.