Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Learning to Swear in America, by Katie Kennedy

4 Stars

Brimming with humor and one-of-a-kind characters, this end-of-the world novel will grab hold of Andrew Smith and Rainbow Rowell fans.

An asteroid is hurtling toward Earth. A big, bad one. Yuri, a physicist prodigy from Russia, has been called to NASA as they calculate a plan to avoid disaster. He knows how to stop the asteroid: his research in antimatter will probably win him a Nobel prize–if there’s ever another Nobel prize awarded. But Yuri’s 17, and having a hard time making older, stodgy physicists listen to him. Then he meets Dovie, who lives like a normal teenager, oblivious to the impending doom. Being with her, on the adventures she plans when he’s not at NASA, Yuri catches a glimpse of what it means to save the world and save a life worth living.

Prepare to laugh, cry, cringe, and have your mind burst open with questions of the universe.

This book got me out of my reading slump, which I think gives it an automatic high rating. No seriously, I hadn’t read anything in weeks, and I zipped through this in two days, which is the rate at which I used to read things before this dreaded slump. So, here is the miracle book that is, in all actuality, a genuinely adorable book.
Learning to Swear in America follows the story of Yuri, a Russian physics prodigy called to America to help NASA stop an asteroid en route to California. Although the whole “asteroid-impending-doom” premise has been done before, usually it’s from the perspective of teenagers who want to do as many crazy things as possible before the world ends. This time, however, it’s from a more scientific perspective, and the asteroid actually ends up being more important to plot of this novel than I’ve seen before.

The majority of my rating for this book is because of Yuri. Yuri is a Russian physics genius, and his voice absolutely sounds like it, despite the third person narrative. I absolutely loved how well his accent came across in the dialogue, and loved even more how cute his character was. Being a visitor from another country for whom English is not a first language, Yuri was adorably socially awkward, misunderstanding American slang and idioms in ways that were totally realistic and affection-inciting. After evaluating how adorable Yuri was, I realized that more books should have characters from other countries. πŸ™‚

The side characters were rather meh, however. It’s been a week or so since I read this book, and I can’t even remember the main love interest’s name, she was that forgettable. I understand the role they had in Yuri’s stay in America, but still, they were your standard “quirky friends that bring the main character out of his shell” cliche. One of the friends, Lennon was actually pretty entertaining (and gets diversity points for being in a wheelchair) so I wish he got more page time than the girl did (still can’t remember her name).

I liked the science aspect of the book and appreciated the amount of research Kennedy put into it. Although most of everything about antimatter went way over my head (if it wasn’t obvious, I’m not exactly a physicist) I still enjoyed the pro-NASA pro-science view that seems far too lacking in today’s America.

Overall, this was a super adorable book that was enjoyable, but its flaws and cliches keep it just short of becoming great.



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