Erin McCahan has just now been added to my fave-authors list. I loved her first book, but one never knows if an author can deliver again. Well, she did. I adored this new story just as much than I Now Pronounce You Someone Else, for some of the same reasons but many new ones.
This book’s heroine is only 15 and quite precocious for her age in some ways because she is so ridiculously bright. Josie attends high school for half the day in her town of Bexley, Ohio, but starts the day with classes at a nearby college. She especially enjoys languages and how they are used by their respective groups; high school students, as she puts it, speak “Ohmig*d” and college students speak a variation called “Ohmig*d 2.0.” She is precise in her approach to the use of words.
This love of precision (oh, how I love her for that!) causes her difficulties, though, when it comes to “love.” There are far too many meanings of that word for her to be able to grasp what it means or to know what it’s like to be in love or to fall in love. That becomes problematic when one of her older sisters, whom she loves and is quite close to, gets engaged, and it’s a mystery to Josie why Kate would love Geoff, let alone even like him, because Josie thoroughly dislikes him. It also is problematic because she’s a teen girl, surrounded by other teens who are in and out of love and asking if Josie is in love or could be.
Throughout the book, Josie ponders continually about the meaning of love and what it feels like. She talks to her best friend, Stu, who lives across the street from her and whom she’s always known; she asks his sister Sophie, with whom she’s also close; she gathers information from friends at school; she watches her married sister, Maggie; and she is utterly baffled — and sometimes angered — by Kate’s behavior as a person in love and planning a wedding. She tries a relationship. And then she meets someone who absolutely knocks her socks off, but there are complications.
Readers just get to enjoy the journey, in all its adolescent messiness (for as advanced as she is, she is definitely immature in the ways of romance), but with Josie’s utterly unique and entertaining takes on things. She made me laugh out loud so often I wanted to read parts aloud to my family members so they could enjoy it too. But when she hurt, I felt it deeply too. It was so real and painful and so true.
So Love and Other Foreign Words is funny, real, vibrant, clever and utterly charming, but a bonus is that it has at its heart a girl who is deeply loved and nurtured by her parents and older sisters and who loves them back; the family is intact and very happy. Sure, they have their problems, but they get along and enjoy spending time together; they rely on each other. In a world of literature that’s full of dysfunction, misery, and broken families, it’s so refreshing and enjoyable to have a family that loves each other and a home which is the heart of their lives.
Overall, the book, in Josie-speak, is completely Pperfect.
Rated: Mild, for references to frequent adolescent use of the name of Deity, which Josie actually finds a little offensive (she says, “But I can’t say it, even as a name, because I think it’s utterly unfair to G-d. It’s not like He’s sitting around Heaven spitting out ohmijosie every time He loses His keys or His computer crashes.”), and one use of a fellow student saying the f-word, but with a letter asterisked out (again, a language observation on Josie’s part as narrator; I’m a bit torn on whether this should make the book moderate); and a couple of sexual references when Josie exaggerates in her mind how her future brother-in-law is touching her sister in her presence.