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Sunday, January 6, 2019

REVIEW: Oksana, Behave! by Maria Kuznetsova

Oksana, Behave! 
by Maria Kuznetsova

Thank you to Spiegel & Grau for this advanced copy.

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Publish Date: March 19, 2019
272 Pages
Genre: Fiction, Cultural

An irresistible debut that follows a Russian-American girl's bumpy path to adulthood as she longs for a homeland she never knew

When Oksana's family begins their new American life in Florida after emigrating from Ukraine, her physicist father delivers pizza at night to make ends meet, her depressed mother sits home all day worrying, and her flamboyant grandmother relishes the attention she gets when she walks Oksana to school, not realizing that the street they're walking down is known as "Prostitute Street." Oksana just wants to have friends and lead a normal life--and though she constantly tries to do the right thing, she keeps getting herself in trouble.

As she grows up, she continues to misbehave, from somewhat accidentally maiming the school bus bully, to stealing the much-coveted (and expensive-to-replace) key to New York City's Gramercy Park, to falling in love with a married man. As her grandmother moves back to Ukraine, her father gets a job at Goldman Sachs, and her mother knits endless scarves, Oksana longs for a Russia that looms large in her imagination but is a country she never really knew.

When she visits her grandmother in Yalta and learns about Baba's wartime past and her lost loves, Oksana begins to see just how much alike they are, and comes to a new understanding of how to embrace life and love without causing harm to the people dearest to her--though, will Oksana ever quite learn to behave?

My Review:

This is quite the interesting debut!  Oksana and her family are from Ukraine and trying to make it in America. Oksana is trying to get used to the culture, the American slang, bullying and just all around fitting in with everyone else.  In this process she makes a lot of unique choices.  

The best part of this is her interpretations such as calling condoms "kingdoms" and testing to see if 9-1-1 really works by claiming her grandmother is trying to kill her.  She has no filter (bless her heart) and never feels bad about how her actions impact others around her.  Each chapter is a new part of her life, sometimes a new location, and always a new adventure.  However, the plot never really seems to get anywhere.  This is a novel that just expands in time and follows Oksana on her journey.  

At times it's gritty and after a while it gets a bit tiresome.  You think Oksana would indeed learn to behave but there's nothing to suggest that she actually does.  I expected some more about her cultural background and her yearning for Ukraine... which we get a little bit in snippets at the end. I still have the question as to whether she always acted so selfishly or if this was a reaction to this big move her family made.

When it comes down to it, this is an absolute character read.  If you're looking for an actual plot line, there is none.  I'm a bit confused as to what the author was trying to give to her readers.  It's somewhat relatable yet I couldn't connect to Oksana at any time.  There was never a deep dive into exactly why she did what she did. 

Delightful in some ways, this book is best suited for those who like to follow a girl childhood to adulthood and her experiences therein.  And maybe, just MAYBE, that ending is where she actually begins.


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