Book Review: Learning to Swear in America – Katie Kennedy


Title: Learning to Swear in America (2016)
Author: Katie Kennedy
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Extent: 346 pages
Release Date: July 5, 2016
Rating: ★★★★☆

Goodreads Description

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.


In Learning to Swear in America, seventeen-year-old physics genius Yuri Strelnikov is sent from Russia to the USA to help them stop a big, bad asteroid meant to destroy parts of the continent. He’s aloof, he’s bad with people, and he’s honestly a little bit emotionally constipated — my type of protagonist for sure, if you see the characters I loved and rooted for when I was younger. 😂

Yuri deals with many things in this book. The asteroid plays some part, yes, but this book is more about his inability to connect with the world around him. His mum is cold and detached. His seniors at NASA look down on him because he’s young. He can’t make friends with teenagers because he’s never been one. He experiences culture shock and doesn’t speak English with 100% fluency. Despite all that, though, I actually found him really endearing.

“I brought some clothes.” She pointed to a bundle in the backseat. “I didn’t think you had anything casual.”

“I’m wearing blue shirt and no tie,” he protested.

She smiled at him. “You’re a wild man.”

The supporting characters are also really, really endearing. Dovie, the love interest, is slightly Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but for some reason I loved her enough to not mind that, perhaps because she’s got the best family ever. Her mum is super sweet and welcoming, her dad nice, and her brother, Lennon, just has a great personality. Bonus point: he’s disabled, but it’s not the centre of his identity, and it was dealt with in a very refreshing way.

Now, to fully enjoy this book, you do have to suspend a bit of disbelief because the premise isn’t exactly realistic. An asteroid is hurtling down to earth, and the fate of humankind — well, parts of humankind — is in the hands of our seventeen-year-old protagonist! If you can get past that and just not think about the implausibility, however, the story has a lot of heart. 💗

“Gonna be a damn lot of Newtons per square centimeter,” Yuri said.

“You shoulda gone with ‘hell’ in that situation, but you’re improving,” Lennon said.

Unfortunately, nearing the end, the book took a turn for the worse. Yuri’s solution for his other, non-asteroid big problem just didn’t make any sense to me as there were simply easier, more obvious ways to solve it. It was also very abrupt and even a little bit open that I turned that final page feeling just a tad dissatisfied.

That aside, though, Learning to Swear in America is honestly just very charming. Kennedy’s writing style was funny, light-hearted, and very readable, and it’s in the dialogue that the humour truly shines — there’s gold in there. Also, for a book with a catastrophic premise, it’s nowhere as serious as I expected it to be and overall reads a bit like the YA version of The Martian, which is just great. 💙

33 thoughts on “Book Review: Learning to Swear in America – Katie Kennedy

  1. I’ve been on the fence about this one but I love the way you talk about it in your review!

    I have a question, if that’s ok: I have a really big fear with death & the end of the world type things, so I usually can’t do apocalypse type stories. Is this one far enough away from the world ending do you think, that it might not be a bad book for someone like me to read? If it’s just a small thing that’s mentioned kind of in the background to fuel the story but not the big main focus that’s mentioned a lot I think I could be ok reading it.

    You’ve made it sound like it’s definitely more about the MC than the end of the world, so I think it should be good but I’m always just so unsure unless I specifically ask lol

    wow ANYWAY!!! Awesome review!! 😀


    • Hmm, as far as world-ending stories go, this one is very… docile, compared to others that I’ve read. There are some serious moments, but I do think the story revolves more around the protagonist’s personal and social development for the most part rather than the apocalypse, and the apocalypse itself is treated with quite a lot of humour. I never felt a sense of dread, if that helps.

      That being said, though I don’t know if I’d recommend it if you don’t think you can handle it – I would hate to push you to read things that end up making you uncomfortable!

      Thank you. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve heard a lot of things about this book and really interested in read it, but I’m so scared it will have a lot of science stuff and it will hamper my enjoyment. I’m so glad that the asteroid thingy is not the center of the story, and I can’t wait to read more of this book!


    • It had a little bit of science stuff, I think, but not too much that it dampened my enjoyment! Also it surprised me that you have heard of this book at all – I’ve never seen another review for it and I feel it’s quite underrated. 😛


  3. Great review Reg! I think I saw this book on your Instagram a while back and it sounded quite interesting, now I’ve read your review I’m definitely adding it to my to-read list though because it sounds exactly like my kind of book! 🙂
    It’s a shame the ending wasn’t as good as the book had maybe led it up to be you know, but the characters themselves sound amazing, and the fact that even the supporting characters are well developed is saying something too. I’ve read plenty of books where the secondary characters have been pushed to one side and it’s never a good thing in terms of development.
    Great review, I hope I enjoy this book as much as you did! 😀


    • Thank you, Beth! I hope you give it a chance – I definitely enjoyed it a lot.

      And yeah, the ending was a bit of a letdown, but everything else leading up to it was pretty great. I guess as long as you don’t mind a bit of wackiness and unrealisticness (which can be rampant in these kinds of books), you might enjoy the book. It has its own charm for sure. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve seen the cover of this book around a lot but didn’t know what it was actually about until now. An asteroid hurtling toward earth? It reminds me of all of those end of the world movies I’ve watched 😂. But a more light-hearted, cute version. The first quote you included had me cracking up and already half in love with the characters haha. I’ll definitely have to give this a read in the future. Great review, Reg! 😊


  5. This sounds like another contemporary I need to add! This sounds great! Though maybe it’s just your reviews…hmmm.
    Yea, when I think of asteroids hurtling to Earth I think of the movie’s Armageddon and Deep Impact: in both, the solution didn’t really solve the problem without major sacrifice, but I loved both movies. It was during the mid-nineties disaster movie fad.
    What’s a Manic Pixie Dream Girl? I so want to know!


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