Friday, July 8, 2016

ARC Review: Learning to Swear in America by Katie Kennedy

Title: Learning to Swear in America
Written by: Katie Kennedy
Published: July 5, 2016 by Bloomsbury
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: 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.

*** I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This fact has not changed my opinion. ***

This is probably closer to 2.5 stars if I am being entirely honest. I didn't hate it, but so much of this book didn't work for me. I'm picky when it comes to the contemporaries I read and this one unfortunately fell on the list of ones that aren't for me.

One thing I did like about this book was the concept of a Russian physicist in the United States. It had a really fun fish out of water feel to it as Yuri tried to navigate American life both at work and outside of the JPL. There were some fun moments as he encounters things that we see as ubiquitous but probably make no sense from the outside. It was fun seeing him not understand the nuances of the language and culture and then slowly figure it out throughout the book. It was the one thing that made the character more likable.

Because the thing is, these characters are not very likable. And I mean Yuri is not supposed to be, I think. He's arrogant and self-centered at the beginning of the book. As a science prodigy he has a right to be confident in his abilities but it doesn't do him any favors in the likability department. But throughout the book he has okay development and ends up redeeming himself a little. It just didn't make that big an impact overall to me. But I wish I could say the same for the secondary characters. Many of them felt a little flat, especially the love interest Dovie. And because of that I couldn't connect with the romance which made things a little difficult especially towards the end of the book.

I think my biggest criticism of this book however is the pacing. Something about the flow didn't work for me. At the beginning things seemed to move from moment to moment very quickly. There was drama and a goal to reach towards. Then it met the goal and there was still a substantial amount of book left but no drama. I think that there was just a lot of falling action and that is something that I never like. But this is a fast read, at just under 350 pages it only took me a few days of reading despite the pacing that didn't work for me.

But I also think my concerns with the pacing may have had something to do with the plot, which didn't quite work for me either. I don't know exactly what the resolution of the story was. It was almost like there are two concurrent plot lines. One with the asteroid and one with Yuri. As a plot-driven reader I think I connected more with the former and lost interest when we were left with the latter. But I also didn't feel like the two worked together as well as they could have. Some of the moments of character development and themes about humanity felt a little forced to me, especially towards the end when I felt like there was no drama. In general I just think there was a lot going on here and the book may have benefited from a little bit of a narrower focus.

On the whole Learning to Swear in America is not a bad read, it is just not my find of contemporary. I liked the fish out of water concept and the apocalyptic fiction angle but I didn't connect with the characters and the problematic pacing and plot development made this not work for me.

I give Learning to Swear in America by Katie Kennedy 6.5 out of 10 stars

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Bypass or Borrow. Despite my criticism I don't want to not recommend this book. It wasn't for me but I think certain contemporary readers will like it. If you are the kind of reader who enjoys a character-driven story with a fish out of water character then check this out. But if you are looking for a fluffy contemporary that balances fun and serious, this may not be the book for you.

Have you read Learning to Swear in America? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!


  1. Sounds like the concept was good - it's a shame it didn't work for you.

  2. Hmmm, I'm not sure if this one would be my kind of contemporary... the whole thing sounds different and interesting but what you've mentioned about plot & pacing is giving me pause.

  3. I've seen this book a couple times and put it on my TBR, but I can't decide if I want to pick it up yet. But from your review I think I may be on the fence too so I'll definitely borrow it from the library.