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

Permanent Record

  Synopsis: After a year of college, Pablo is working at his local twenty-four-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…

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Hoo boy do I have a lot of feelings about this book. Let’s get into it.

“Trying to get better at the thing you want to be the best at is humiliating.”

First off, I think the branding for this book is a bit off. Going in, I thought this book was going to be a romance, which I didn’t mind, but this book is definitely a slice of life contemporary, with hints of romance. 

Pablo Neruda Rind is truly one of the most interesting characters I think I’ve ever had the privilege of reading about. His character just felt so real to me, which is one of my favorite things about him. He is 20, Biracial (Pakistani and Korean) and severely in debt. He has dropped out of NYU and isn’t quite sure where his life is going, so he works the graveyard shift at a bodega.

Leanna Smart was a child star, and now a pop singer. I also really enjoyed her character, although I didn’t think she was fleshed out enough, (more on that later) she is also Biracial (Mexican and White), and 22.

One thing that really made this book for me was the mental illness representation. Pablo is deeply anxious and very depressed throughout almost the whole book. As aforementioned, his character felt realistic to me. He makes a lot of rash decisions, ones that made me want to physically shake him. But he feels like a real person, and his mental illness made me feel seen.

One thing that I didn’t love, was that we don’t get Leanna’s perspective. I feel like she would’ve added so much more depth. Since it’s only in Pablo’s perspective, we only see her through his eyes. It’s kind of implied that she struggles with her mental health as well, but we only really get to see her as a Manic Pixie Dreamgirl. 

Another thing. My favorite parts of this book were when Pablo and Leanna were together, but they weren’t together a ton. For me, this book tended to drag a bit when it was just him.

Another good thing, their banter was amazing! I definitely am a big fan of Choi’s style of humor. 

“God, this country, it’s so predatory.” 

This book tackles an issue that I haven’t often seen before. College. I think college is portrayed as a magical place that we all should strive for, which it very much could be. I think a lot of people don’t realize how stressful picking where you want to go, and taking on that kind of financial burden, especially at 16-18. And even picking exactly what you want to do at such a young age can be very emotionally crippling. 

Overall I definitely think I would pick up more books by Choi. If you’re looking for a contemporary that’s on the more hard-hitting side, with some interesting characters and a great discussion around mental illness, you won’t want to miss this one!

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