A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan is a coming-of-age story for younger teen readers. It focuses on an extremely gifted 15-year-old junior who has to translate teenspeak and other foreign (to her) concepts into a language she can understand. There's rare offensive language ("s--t," "a--hole," and one "f--k" that isn't spelled out; plus the insult "retarded"), a few kisses, and adults drink wine at dinner or special events, so this is a story that even mature tween (11-12) readers of YA will understand. Readers who like books about quirky smart girls, close families, and best friends who turn to more will especially appreciate this book.
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What's the story?
Fifteen-year-old Josie Sheridan lives quite the charmed life: She's the baby of a close-knit family; a super genius who's both a junior in high school and a first year in college; and a tall, athletic blonde. She's so smart she has to "translate" the world around her into a language she can understand -- a daily chore that can be exhausting except around her family and lifelong best friends, neighbors Stu and his sister Sophie. Josie's world gets infinitely more complicated when her adored older sister Kate gets engaged to Geoff, an insufferable intellectual Josie can't stand. At first Josie vows to break up her sister's engagement, but as the wedding date approaches, she starts to realize that love (in all its forms) is the hardest language to understand.
Is it any good?
The book jacket blurb for this young adult novel references two of the genre's best authors, which naturally leads to high expectations that are unfortunately unmet and undeserved. Josie might be a "gifted" protagonist like Hazel Grace and Cath, but the comparisons are limited to their intelligence and the way they take a while to realize how they feel about their love interests. Josie isn't a likable main character; she can be alternately too mature and ridiculously juvenile. For example, Josie's antagonism toward Kate's fiance Geoff (and jealousy at their impending wedding) would be believable if she were 10-12 but seems selfish and off-putting at age 15-16.
The strengths of the story are the way the Sheridan family is depicted and how deeply the idea of love vs. like is explored. Clearly a surprise late-in-life third child, Josie is refreshingly close to her family, preferring to spend time with her parents and older sisters than to party with school friends. The romance in the book is on the light and cute side -- but also surprisingly thoughtful. Josie and her best friend Stu are not the type of teens to say "I love you" to their boyfriend and girlfriend unless they honestly, truly mean it (even if someone says it to them first). Although some readers will want to shake Josie into self awareness, there is enough humor and depth (about intelligence, crushes, sisters, and love) to make this a sweet read for younger teens and fans of clean romance.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about romantic coming-of-age tales. What are some of your favorite "light romances"? How does the idea of love differ in this book than other books, where love seems easy and instant?
Josie is a gifted main character. How does she compare to other super-smart characters? Does she behave believably, or is it hard to relate to her?
Unlike the many only-child YA protagonists, Josie has siblings and is particularly close to them. What do you think of her closeness to her family? Why don't more YA books feature such tight families?
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