Learning to Swear in America by Katie Kennedy (InfoSoup)
NASA has called on Yuri, a 17-year-old physics prodigy from Russia, to help save the earth, literally. An asteroid is heading on a path that will directly impact earth in the next few weeks. Yuri joins the team of adults who don’t really listen to him. Yuri’s own research into antimatter has not yet been published, though he expects it to win him the Nobel Prize. Meanwhile, Yuri meets Dovie, a teenage girl who has the life that Yuri never lived. Her hippie family is warm and wonderful, despite many horrible culinary experiments. Despite his focus on the asteroid, Yuri finds himself drawn to Dovie and her American teenage experiences. As Yuri works, he also discovers that the Americans intend to force him to stay, rather than allowing him to return to Russia. Now Yuri has to deal with the asteroid, escaping NASA and teenage love.
Immediately upon starting the book, I was in love with the author’s voice. She writes with a wry tone that broadens at times into full-on farce and humor. The interplay between Yuri and his counterparts at NASA is fascinatingly displayed, often using a mix of both cultural differences and Yuri’s social awkwardness to best effect. The novel is fast paced and yet not breakneck until the very end where it is entirely warranted and great fun. Yuri in an American high school and then at prom are wonderful moments that show the horrors of American schools but also Yuri as a unique character.
The book works because of Yuri himself and Dovie as well as her family. Yuri is a great character, someone who could initially be seen as Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory and then zigs in a different direction, becoming someone who is kind, friendly and horny too. Dovie and her family are the opposite of “typical” Americans, instead living a hippie lifestyle that is lovingly captured on the page. The addition of Dovie’s brother and his wheelchair is far more than a token gesture and he becomes important in Yuri’s growth and choices.
A richly funny and deeply fascinating book that asks big questions about life and death while making you laugh along the way. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury.