Permanent Record

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Permanent Record Book Poster Image
Solid coming-of-ager shows lure of celebrity, social media.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Some cultural and geographical insight into life in New York City. The main character's named after Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, which may inspire interest in learning about him and reading some of his poetry.

Positive Messages

Never stop trying to understand and learn new things about family members; if you stop trying, you can stay wrong about someone for a long time. There's no fork in the road or lightning-bolt moment when success happens; it's the accumulation of all the regular days when you work hard, follow your better instincts, and do the right thing. Life isn't a destination, it's continually doing things that make you wiser and happier. When you're struggling, just do the next thing that's right in front of you, and do it right. Don't worry about what's coming down the pipeline, just do the work, one step at a time, to straighten out your life.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Although he's a likeable character, Pablo starts out as a terrible role model who's always avoiding his problems and trying to put as much distance between himself and his problems as he can. Eventually he realizes that more distance just makes things worse, and learns how to take his problems on one by one, put the work in, and ask for help. Pablo's family and friends are loving, loyal, and supportive in different ways, which Pablo has a hard time seeing at first. Lee's strange life as an A-list celebrity make it hard for her to sustain meaningful relationships. She's not bad or mean, but she just isn't capable of putting the work into a relationship or giving of her true self to the other person.


Brief reference to a shooting of an unarmed kid in a hoodie with a bag of Skittles.


Kissing, caressing, undressing, lying in bed, and taking a bath together imply sex, but nothing beyond kissing is described. Lots of sexual references to physical feelings like, "the circuitry in my pelvis twangs." Condoms, a past pregnancy scare, HIV, HPV, and "the clap" mentioned briefly. Younger brother Rain, 13, gets caught trying to sell stolen vibrators at school. 


Lots of strong language: "assholes," "damn," "s--t," "d--k," "pubes," "ballsack," "dips--t," "dumbass," "prick," "bastard," and "f--k." Lots of current slang like "thot," which stands for "That Hoe Over There" and is a derogatory term for social-media, selfie-obsessed women.


Lots of food, beverage, and clothing brands mentioned to establish character.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

College-age kids occasionally binge drink and try to get into nightclubs with fake ID. One teen is visibly drunk in a nightclub. Pablo sells alcohol at his grocery-store job and mentions a customer buying tallboys at 8 in the morning. One of Pablo's roommates sells marijuana; college-age kids smoke joints and blunts occasionally. Pablo and his friends use high-tech, high-design vaping pens that glorify wealth to vape marijuana; being high is illustrated by a giggly, rambling conversation. Pablo mentions "weed paranoia" setting in.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Permanent Record is a coming-of-age story from the author of the popular Emergency Contact. This one's about a young man who dropped out of college in his first year and is having trouble staying afloat financially while he figures out what to do with his life. Biracial families have strong, positive representation here from main-character Pablo's Korean mother and Pakistani father. Romance with an A-list celebrity is part of the story, too, and while there's plenty of talking and thinking about sexy stuff, sex itself is only implied. Kissing and caressing are described briefly, but there's nothing graphic and no body parts are described. Lots and lots of strong language including "f--k," "d--k," "prick," "asshole," and more, including lots of slang-y, social-media terms like "thot." There's no violence beyond a reference to the Treyvon Martin shooting. Ultimately messages are positive about growing up, facing your problems, asking for help, and taking things one step at a time.

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What's the story?

PERMANENT RECORD tells of Pablo, who dropped out of New York University during his freshman year because it was too overwhelming for him. Since then he's been working in a gourmet convenience store in Manhattan while trying to eke out a living on his own, independent of his parents. With rent past due, mountains of student-loan debt, and an ever-growing credit card balance, Pablo's not doing a very good job of keeping it together. Adding to all that a strained relationship with his mother, a brother who's in danger of being suspended from middle school, and no idea of what he wants to do with his life makes a pretty good recipe for disaster. Until the girl of his dreams walks into the store in the wee small hours of the night. She and Pablo instantly bond over their love of snack food. And, oh yeah, she also happens to be one of the world's hottest musical acts right now. Will Pablo let himself be whisked away into her world of limos, private jets, and luxury hotels?

Is it any good?

Mary H.K. Choi's second novel is a solid coming-of-ager that teens will relate to even as they're entertained by a peek inside the fabulous celebrity lifestyle. Pablo wants to be independent and make his own decisions, but he can't make up his mind. He wants to pursue his dreams but doesn't know what he wants to do with his life. And right in the teen wheelhouse is the characters' use of social media, how if affects their relationships and the way they see themselves and their potential, and what becomes part of your Permanent Record.

Pablo's voice is believable, and the colorful cast of sometimes-quirky characters add emotional depth. His growing relationship with celebrity A-lister Lee adds a nice dash of romance that's refreshingly believable but not graphic.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the strong language in Permanent Record. Is it realistic? How much is too much in books, movies, games, etc.?

  • What are Pablo's character strengths and weaknesses? How does he change over the course of the story?

  • Many of us have dreamed of life as a rich and famous celebrity, but would it really solve all your problems? How would Lee and Pablo answer that question? Do you think the depiction here is realistic?

Book details

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For kids who love coming-of-age stories

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