Permanent Record by Mary H K Choi

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Permanent Record by Mary H K Choi

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: Whilst you think it's going to be a romance, the story tips and turns in interesting ways to become something much more.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: November 2019
Publisher: Atom
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0349003450

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Pablo, a college drop-out, is working at a New York bodega. He's massively in debt, he's avoiding his mother, and he finds his joy in creating unusual snacks with random ingredients! Whilst working one evening, he's surprised to discover that the girl he is chatting with as he serves is a super-famous pop star and, as unlikely as it may seem, they start a relationship. With one character who is trying very hard not to be seen or noticed by anyone, and the other who is seen and followed and hounded by everyone all over the world, it's an interesting clash as they come together. This isn't just a love story though, and actually it's really just Pab's story, about the journey he takes in his life via his meet-up with Leanna Smart.

I really liked the start to the book, as we see Pab's work in the Bodega (it's like a corner shop or convenience store for those of us not in the US), and start to learn a little about him. Having the story from his point of view is an interesting choice as I had thought it might switch to Lee at some point in the book, but it stayed with Pab throughout. I wasn't always sure I liked him very much, but that's sort of the point. He makes some really bad choices, he treats people terribly at times, and he finds himself stuck in a very, very deep hole. That does mean some parts are a little difficult to read, but the darkness in the book is also juxtaposed with humour too, which helps.

I like that both main characters are biracial. Pab is Korean and Pakistani, whilst Leanna is Mexican and white. There are flavours of the different cultures throughout, and as a parent of biracial children I love that there is more representation that they can identify with now in popular culture. It's important to recognise that biracial children often grow up within these dual cultures, feeling a part of both, or sometimes feeling a part of neither. As I read, though, I found that I wanted more from some of the secondary characters; for instance Pab's mum and dad have a very interesting relationship, that I would have liked to know a lot more about, and his brother, Rain, is also an intriguing character. Seeing Pab's childhood would make another good story, I think, as I was really intrigued by his family and the dynamics within it.

The dialogue in the book is funny, and smart, and that really helps the characters seem real. As the story turned into more of a romance, with the relationship between Pab and Lee, I was a little disappointed. I much preferred seeing Pab's wider world, and everyone else in his life (I'd have liked more about the family running the bodega, for instance). But then the book flips again, and from young love it spins into Pab's downward spiral into depression. Not happy reading, but still very heartfelt and compelling. And, I felt, more interesting than the romance.

The New York setting is atmospheric, and I could easily picture all the different places through the story. I also felt that different themes and ideas were touched on and handled in a really great way, for example, the whole celebrity lifestyle and what that actually entails for Lee. We see, very clearly, that although Lee has amazing advantages in her life, with all that money can buy, she misses out on normal things like popping out somewhere to eat, or even just learning to ride a bike. The book also takes a pass at social media, the personas created for the online world, and what's real and what isn't.

Pab's college issues were also interesting, thinking about how young American teenagers still are when they're making huge life choices, about which college to go to and how much debt they're going to get into to go there. Although you're despairing as you read at Pab's complete failure to deal with any of the letters and bills and final notices piling up with his debts, it also becomes understandable because he is just a young man still, and it's so easy to fall into the trap of taking on more debt with credit cards, just to get by.

My biggest criticism of the book would be that I didn't feel that Pab's depression was treated effectively. There was the sense that he crashed so very, very low, but then with just a nudge and a change of heart, he was back on the up and up, and although it was going to be a difficult path, all would be well. Whilst the spiral downwards was really well told, and his avoidance of facing up to the truth rang true, I don't think any treatment, or options for him, were very clearly defined and that was a definite mis-step for the story.

Whilst it's definitely a book that sits in the young adult genre, I felt it was wide-ranging enough to also be engaging to older readers (like me!) It wasn't a perfect read, but it was really, really good. I raced through it, reading ‘just one more chapter' repeatedly as it was hard to put down, and I'm already on the lookout for other books by this author.

Further Reading Suggestion: If you liked this, you might also enjoy books by Rainbow Rowell, for example Landline by Rainbow Rowell

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