Friday, July 22, 2016

Book Review: "Learning to Swear in America" by Katie Kennedy

Poor Yuri Strelnikov. The 17-year-old physicist prodigy has traveled from his Moscow home to California to help NASA stop a giant asteroid that is hurtling toward Earth. It won't wipe out the entire planet, but it may destroy the entire state of California, and cause tsunamis which might wipe out the Pacific Rim.

The thing is, Yuri knows how to stop the asteroid. He even has unpublished research that demonstrates this, research he's sure will earn him a Nobel Prize someday, which is something he has dreamed about since he was very young. But because he is so young, he can't convince his NASA colleagues to listen to him. They don't want to take chances on a kid's unpublished research, they want to use the methods they know—even if it means they won't be successful.

Yuri is alone, shuttled between his hotel room and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory where the work is being done. He can't reach anyone from home, and when he does, he understands that one of his chief academic rivals is looking to take credit for his research. And then he meets Dovie Collum, a free-spirited, creative teenager who tries to live life in a carefree way, although she struggles with those who want to squelch her creative spirit. Little by little, she shows Yuri what it's like to be a real American teenager, and gives him the opportunity to experience some of the simple joys of life.

But in the end, Yuri has a mission, and he is determined to save the world from the asteroid the way he knows how, so he can go home again. How can he convince his colleagues to listen to him, even if his research hasn't been proven, and even if there are inherent risks? Should he just let them do what they think is best, even if it means putting people in danger?

I really enjoyed Learning to Swear in America. I thought it was sweet and funny, and I enjoyed getting to spend time with the characters. It's a reasonably predictable book but I didn't think that took anything away from its charm. This is a book that didn't take itself too seriously even as it dealt with the potential of a disaster, but the characters didn't seem overly precocious or wise beyond their years, save Yuri, but he was only wise in terms of science and math.

Katie Kennedy definitely knows how to write an enjoyable story. Even her author's note was funny. Consider this: "I did a lot of research to write this book, but if you're trying to stop an asteroid, you probably shouldn't use it as a guide. Finally, if you do notice an incoming asteroid, please give the nearest astrophysicist a heads-up because there really are only about a hundred people in the world looking for them. And it really is a big sky."

If you're looking for something that's light and enjoyable, with a little bit of soul-searching thrown in for good measure, pick up Learning to Swear in America. You may know what's coming, but you'll still enjoy the journey.


  1. I've seen this all over the place lately, but before now I had no clue what it was about. Great review!

    1. Thanks, Lauren! It's sweet and fun. Sometimes that's the perfect recipe for a read.