Oksana, Behave! by Maria Kuznetsova [in Booklist]
Debut novelist Maria Kuznetsova gets paired with a first-time narrator, and the collaboration is – well, ideal. Like Kuznetsova’s titular heroine Oksana, Anna Kyra Hooton is a Russian American immigrant, arriving in the U.S. at 10, three years older than 7-year-old Oksana who moves from Kiev to Florida with her parents and grandmother.
Hooten’s polyglot facility proves exemplary here: she’s able to subtly distinguish the pronunciation – the name Brezhnev, for example – between a native Russian speaker and an American Wall Street executive. Hooten audaciously assumes Oksana’s rebel personality, always ready to challenge social norms and boundaries, beginning in third grade when she calls 911 claiming (falsely) her grandmother is trying to kill her. In high school, she initiates the first of many inappropriate liaisons with the troubled 20-something son of her SAT tutor; in college, she pines for a potential rapist; as an adult, she chooses a married man.
Her casual approach to life – sex, drugs, peripatetic escapes – is never quite enough to fill the void left by loss of country, of culture, and of family. Decades will pass until searching begins to resemble settling.