Book Review: Learning to Swear in America

Posted June 23, 2016 by Lyn Kaye in book review, Lyn / 0 Comments

Book Review: Learning to Swear in AmericaLearning to Swear in America by Katie Kennedy
Published by Bloomsbury Children's on July 5th 2016
Genres: young adult, contemporary
Pages: 352
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
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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.

Learning to Swear in America wasn’t bad; in fact, I loved the first part of the novel.  Watching and dissecting our culture through the eyes of someone from the outside is a story I rather enjoy, and this book had it. I really adored Yuri as a main character, and I fell in love with his accent, because I am a sucker broken English. It just sounds better to me when reading, and it is endearing. Call me weird. More than likely, it is a throwback of my childhood crush on this guy.

As the book wore on, however, my love for the book fell lower and lower, until it became the typical contemporary novel, filled with the same tired issues that makes me avoid the genre all together.

What I did enjoy

Yuri’s dry, straight forward humor about America. I make it no secret that I actually dislike American culture, and his jabs are on point, such as his joke about American salad and our odd habit of personal space. Some of the things he pointed out are things I am even guilty of myself, and I still saw the humor in his quick quips and prickly observations. The patriotism and Russian vs American goading is light-hearted yet just perfectly peppered within the book.

Multitasking in the Plot. Even though this book has a big focus on romance, it wasn’t the sole purpose of this story. The main plot was still the destruction of Earth and the author didn’t beat the audience over the head with mainly steering the main identity of the book on the budding romance. The romance and the science plots both had equal footing in the novel, which was a nice relief from romance-driven best sellers that seem to populate the shelves right now.

Talking of the Nerds. Kennedy certainly did us all a favor by keeping in the science terms and the space talk. I have a love of space and astral objects, thanks to my sister, so  I really enjoyed the glimpse inside the subsection of NASA. Kudos to the author for this favor!


Self Exploration. Outside of the destruction of humans and the finding of love, Yuri was faced with also discovering more about himself. He did grow as a character in the novel , learning how to break out of the confinements he placed on himself, exploring the world around him and within him. Yuri was a joy of a main character to see the world through, and watch him awaken to some of the simpler joys provided to him.

Some of the Issues

Stereotypical Contemp YA Issues. Slut shaming, girl-on-girl hate, high school stereotypes, unrealistic adults, and fallible advice were some of the points that wrecked my personal enjoyment of this book. I had a lot of issues with Dovie and Lennon.  Dovie and her slut shaming was highly disappointing, claiming that another girl in her class got A’s on her art assignments because of her low cut shirts. This is something we do not need to see in YA books. Enough with this. This is 2016 and I can’t believe we are still deconstructing the entire “whore” mythology. Girls only wear slutty clothes for better grades/guys/money. Why do we have to have this in every freaking YA book set in high school?? And then we have Lennon, a person in a wheelchair who told people that it was due to a drunk driver because “he gets more sympathy”, even though that is not the truth behind his disability. That is very disgusting. To say that you are a victim of drunk driving just for the pity. It makes me sick to my stomach that this was just accepted in the novel as “cute and quirky”.  And then we have Stereotype High – horrible teachers, fascist principle, crappy jocks, horrible girls, guy friend pining for the female main love interest. For a book with something new to offer, I’m highly confused why the plot had to fall back onto the same old routine for the high school setting. It was disappointing to see the author go over the top to make all of the adults as evil as she could, and most of the other students dull and uninteresting next to Dovie, just to make her stand out even more as Such a Great Person. Tearing down the background characters to make the main leads more enticing is a weak, water-thin technique of how to build up the characters.

Tepid Romance. I knew that there was a romance going into this book, but I had no idea that it was going to weaken the novel to the point where I would come to despise the pairing. Yuri suddenly turned into this sex-crazed person, when it seemed out of character, and the stupid things that fell from Dovie’s mouth was suddenly golden, just because Yuri wanted to sleep with her. Dovie wanted Yuri to forget personal achievement and just strive for everything out of the goodness of his heart, To completely give up all of his goals because it was greedy of him to be driven. I thought it was a horrible message to send to young people – that personal gain is horrible and that it is okay to let everyone walk all over them for the greater good. Yuri should have told Dovie she was full of crap and left. Which goes with….

Crappy Ending. Yuri just gives up everything for Dovie. At the age of seventeen. News flash – the person you meet in your teens might not be the person you love forever. So Yuri throws away so much because he happened to finally find a girl. No. Horrible ending.


Even though there were some glaring issues, I did find this book enjoyable, especially when the plot was centered around Yuri and the asteroid. The book was cynical yet sweet, sour yet touching. This was fun, and if you are a science geek, this is going to give you enough to make you happy. If you want something that is a guilty pleasure, pick this one up!


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