Erin McCahan's Love and Other Foreign Words is a novel I was excited to read. I had heard good things and I enjoyed most parts of her previous YA, I Now Pronounce You Someone Else, particularly the writing and character development. Love and Other Foreign Words had those aspects plus a storyline I as able to love more so I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
Can anyone be truly herself--or truly in love--in a language that's not her own?
Sixteen-year-old Josie lives her life in translation. She speaks High School, College, Friends, Boyfriends, Break-ups, and even the language of Beautiful Girls. But none of these is her native tongue -- the only people who speak that are her best friend Stu and her sister Kate. So when Kate gets engaged to an epically insufferable guy, how can Josie see it as anything but the mistake of a lifetime? Kate is determined to bend Josie to her will for the wedding; Josie is determined to break Kate and her fiancé up. As battles are waged over secrets and semantics, Josie is forced to examine her feelings for the boyfriend who says he loves her, the sister she loves but doesn't always like, and the best friend who hasn't said a word -- at least not in a language Josie understands.
Josie is a genius but this means she is often out of the loop when it comes to how average people interact. She is incredibly gifted with all the quirks that go along with that. She especially enjoys foreign languages and studying them. She does an exercise in her head where she translates people's words into "Josie". High school speak, college speak, etc. She has particular trouble translating love though, a concept that escapes her entirely. The book chronicles several months where Josie attempts to come to terms with her sister's engagement, her love for her sister, and get her own love life. It is a book all about relationship. Sibling relationships, dating relationships, friendship, and parental relationships all play a major part in the story. That's because these are all important relationships in Josie's life. Relationships of any type experience a high frequency of change, and change is something Josie has major issues with. She is having to contend with her much loved older sister getting married to a man of whom she is not fond. In her attempts to understand love she explores dating, changing the dynamics of several of her friendships along the way. The book is so captivating because of Josie's voice, which is so well done. She is super intelligent and odd as a result, and being in her head is truly fascinating. Watching as she sorts out her feelings toward the people around her as she herself grows and changes makes for a great read.
As I said, this is a story about all sorts of relationships, but it is most particularly a sibling story. I love sibling stories and this is a good one. The relationship between Josie and her sister is wonderful. Then there are Josie's parents who are fully involved and engaged in her life. Lovely to see in a YA. I also LOVED the relationship between Josie and her best friend, Stu. Stu is a genius as well and he speaks fluent Josie even though he has a language entirely his own. The rapport between the two of them is perfect and I loved their banter. Seriously, there is some excellent banter between these two. I had a goofy grin on my face while reading them in several places. And I just adored the ending.
Love and Other Foreign Words is a book that really sticks with you. At first I just wrote a quick few word review on Goodreads, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it and felt it deserved the full treatment here on the blog. If you enjoy contemporary YA, this is not to be missed.