Skip to main content

Learning to Swear in America

Review

Learning to Swear in America

What’s a young Russian teenager to do when he finds himself in a foreign country trying to help top physicists figure out how to stop an asteroid from potentially destroying the United States? Ask the girl who accidentally saved his life how to swear in English so he can fit in better, of course. The result of his request, LEARNING TO SWEAR IN AMERICA by Katie Kenendy, is a hilarious, compelling book about culture shock and acceptance.

Yuri Strelnikov --- ahem, excuse me, Dr. Yuri Strelnikov --- is brilliant. Then again, that’s not surprising considering he is a 17-year-old who has a doctorate in physics. When the USA is on a mission to destroy the asteroid that could be the cause of its downfall, he is the perfect addition to their team of world-renowned physicists --- except he doesn’t anticipate meeting a girl whose driving skills take a few years off of his life, or the troubles that come with being 17 and in charge of saving the western hemisphere. With Yuri and a host of other amazing characters, Kennedy creates a world within our own featuring a simple boy trying to find his way.

"With Yuri and a host of other amazing characters, Kennedy creates a world within our own featuring a simple boy trying to find his way."

You know that feeling when you can’t stop laughing? To the point where your stomach hurts? Then when you finally think you have it under control but then the tiniest little thing sets you off. That’s the best way for me to describe this book. I could not stop laughing for the life of me, giggling every time Yuri didn’t understand an idiom and laughing at his interactions with Dovie. The blunt writing style and my personal connection to Yuri’s character made this book a total hit for me.

I won’t lie, I was a little taken aback by the writing when I first started reading. Kennedy gets straight to the point with no frills or flowery language, which was very much different than my previous read, WUTHERING HEIGHTS. It reminded me very much of a young child who has no other worries in the world except the color of the gummy worms in their ice cream. Of course, the book was about something not very childlike at all --- a giant asteroid that has the potential to eliminate 300 million people doesn’t exactly scream “bedtime story.” Still, this book gave me a little taste of nostalgia mixed in with some out of this world elements which, together, crafted a novel that made me feel like I had no other responsibilities than making sure I could control my laughter.

I relate quite well to books that feature a character who experiences culture shock/a language barrier. I moved to the United States from Nepal when I was 10 and, although I do not remember much, my parents tell me I had a very difficult time adjusting to life in the United States. I was not a very sociable person by nature and until high school, I had never really hung out with friends outside of school. However, slowly but surely, I found ways to express myself more and finally feel like I have people around me I can trust. Yuri’s character clicked very well with me. Like him, I was socially awkward, easily confused by idioms, and did not how to behave myself around people I especially liked. I saw bits of that confused and angry 10-year-old girl in 17-year-old Yuri (just without doctorate degree). Replace the tall and brilliant with short and spent-the-first-six-months-doing-order-of-operations-wrong-because-she-did-not-know-it-was-different-in-the-US and honestly, you couldn’t tell the difference.

I will say that I was very much not expecting the ending. It was a happy but realistic ending, though I would have loved to seen a small glimpse into Yuri’s life after the events in the book. Although I do enjoy open ended conclusions to novels, I was attached enough to Yuri that I just wanted to make sure he was as happy as he could be because he really and truly deserves it.

Reviewed by Pranshu A., Teen Board Member on July 7, 2016

Learning to Swear in America
by Katie Kennedy

  • Publication Date: July 18, 2017
  • Genres: Family, Family Life, Fiction, Social Issues
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
  • ISBN-10: 1619639114
  • ISBN-13: 9781619639119