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. Plus, he’s up to his eyeballs in credit card debt. Never mind the state of his student loans.
Pop juggernaut Leanna Smart has enough social media followers to populate whole continents. The brand is unstoppable. She graduated from child stardom to become an international icon and her adult life is a queasy blur of private planes, aspirational hotel rooms, and strangers screaming for her just to notice them.
When Leanna and Pablo meet at 5:00 a.m. at the 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, Leanna and Pablo turn to each other. Which, of course, is when things get properly complicated.
*I was sent an e-book copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*
You know when you feel like a book has been sent to you by some divine intervention because it hits you right in the heart and soothes you in a way you never expected? Yeah, that was what Permanent Record and Mary H. K. Choi’s writing did for me. I could relate to this novel on so many levels and I was up till stupid o’clock to finish reading, and it was so worth it. This book is deeply important and it moved me so incredibly much. I found myself feeling so much hope and joy for the characters and their journey and I just know this book holds a permanent place in my heart now. You could even say it holds a permanent record…Okay I’ll stop now and get on with the review.
The novel is centered on Pablo Neruda Rind, a 20 year old college dropout who is working in a bodega to make ends meet, he has crippling student and credit card debt and feels pretty lost in life. He doesn’t know what his future holds and while his friends and family are moving on and succeeding in their pursuits, he just feels stuck. The novel is told entirely through his perspective and I really enjoyed reading how his mind worked, his voice was so entertaining and authentic. At times it does feel kind of overwhelming , but I think this reflects Pablos rapid thought process more than anything and how everything feels like it’s going so fast around him. Additionally, his narrative can be a little self centered but I think this is so human, we can all be a little self concerned and insular sometimes.
One morning as Pablo is working, a beautiful girl walks into the bodega and it’s none other than Leanna Smart, 22 year old mega star whose life is all private jets, glam clothes and hordes of fans. Pablo and Leanna hit it off immediately and so begins their sweet and unconventional relationship. While the romance did feel kind of insta-lovey to me at first, as the story progressed it was kind of understandable. They’re two young people who are riding the ups and downs of being a twenty something year old and so when they find some happiness, an escape and someone who makes them feel understood they both just go for it without overthinking it.
More than any other element in the book however, I could really relate to the exploration of mental illness, specifically depression within the novel. I think that Choi portrays the intricacies of mental health so well and how depression can manifest in different ways depending on the individual and this was so powerful. Depression is not always being unable to leave the house and being ‘outwardly sad’, sometimes it’s putting off important tasks because it overwhelms you, not being able to express your feelings for fear of being rejected, and not being able to ask for help. Pablo exhibits some of these behaviours and while he doesn’t get a formal diagnosis in the course of the novel, it’s evident that he is depressed at certain points in the story, but just doesn’t know how to put this into words.
While this exploration of depression is important, it was just as important, if not more that Pablo manages to work through some of his issues and actually finds happiness. He still doesn’t have everything figured out but he finds a way and it was great to read that he finds light at the end of the tunnel so to speak. It was a nice change to see a character who goes through mental hardship succeed and have their story end in a hopeful and realistic way. I would have liked to see him seeking professional help or even therapy of some sort in the novel itself, but perhaps this will come later. I’m not sure if there will be a sequel or if this is a standalone but either way, I would like to think Pablo gets the help he needs.
The novel is own voices for Korean representation, and it was great to see biracial characters discussing their life experiences, this was so valid and I think readers will really be able to connect with this element of the novel. Most of the characters in the novel are People of Colour and it’s kind of shocking to realise that I’ve gone pretty much my entire life reading novels where POC are a minority so it was refreshing reading a contemporary novel that has such a diverse cast of characters in the forefront, being unapologetically themselves.
Pablo is Korean and Pakistani, but grew up in New York and as much as he appreciates both parts of his heritage, he doesn’t know how to speak Korean or Urdu and he has never visited either country. He is sort of stuck between these worlds and he finds it hard to navigate his identity and this is explored with both his character and Leanna as well. Leanna is Mexican and White and there’s a small moment where she asserts that she is Mexican and claims her heritage that speaks volumes. Although I’m not biracial myself, I recognise and appreciate the discussions opened up in this novel and it was a joy to read it done in a way that felt upfront but sensitive too.
Overall, I can’t recommend Permanent Record enough, this is honestly a life changing read. I think anybody in their twenties who doesn’t have it all figured out, which let’s face it, is most of us at some point or other, will be able to relate to Pablo and the other characters and feel seen and heard through this novel. I hope this review finds you all well,
Until next time,