Oksana Konnikova is only seven when she moves from Kiev with her parents and flamboyant grandmother to Gainsville, Florida. A quirky child with an unfortunate mullet and a propensity for standing up to bullies, Oksana is constantly stepping out of line. As Oksana grows up, and falls in love she is still an outspoken misfit, longing for a place to call home.
Kuznetsova’s writing can take on a breezy, frenetic energy — she is good at sex scenes, drinking scenes and at describing impulsive action. Oksana’s sexpot grandmother, Baba, is a remarkable character, and the depiction of Oksana’s job as a content producer for a media startup is spot-on and hilarious. But the book is hampered by an awkward, self-conscious sprinkling of that Russian Mystique ... Kuznetsova never explores Oksana’s motivations: For a story told in the first person, Oksana, Behave! is remarkably introspection-free ... the protagonist never evolves, continuing to narrate her self-destructive life in the same curmudgeonly voice, devoid of insight. The novel as a result is both action-packed and tedious, its language slipping easily into rote clichés...
Each character is complex and unforgettable, from Oksana’s vivacious and sexual grandmother to her cold and distant mother who calls Oksana 'little idiot' and often asks, 'What have I done to deserve this child? Did I commit murder in a past life I don’t believe in? Genocide? Was I Stalin himself?' Oksana, Behave! provides insight into the assimilation experience for Soviet families. Oksana embodies someone who is stuck in between — growing up in the United States while not feeling fully American. But even in heavier moments, Kuznetsova makes us laugh using Oksana’s genuine and comically honest character as she paves her own path to self-discovery.
Oksana gets older and perhaps wiser, but her choices don’t necessarily improve. And yet despite this, she is an utterly compelling, deeply flawed, and completely endearing character. 'I was nobody’s first choice, the Ross Perot of real life,' she laments in high school. Kuznetsova has created a heroine for the ages in her sparkling, piercingly insightful debut.