Jasmine Warga's OTHER WORDS FOR HOME - A Beautiful Portrayal of Coming from Syria to America
by Ashley Dickson-Ellison (@teachingtheapocalypse)
Jasmine Warga's Other Words for Home
(Amazon | Bookshop.org)
Friends, I absolutely LOVED this brilliant middle-grade novel in verse. I had seen recommendations from several bookish friends (including multiple Unabridged Ambassadors!) who read this and had great things to say about it, and I was eager to try it out. (Also, I seem to be on a middle-grade kick here! I haven't really read that many middle-grade books this year, but each one I have read has been outstanding.)
Warga covers so many important topics here in a beautiful, moving way that also propels forward the story. When the book begins, we meet Jude and her family and learn about the tension in Syria between people who want democracy and change others who want the stability that comes with things remaining the same. This tension is especially palpable between Jude's father and her older brother Issa, and Issa soon moves out of the family's home and into the areas of the greatest conflict where he can help others.
Although Jude's beach town remains largely untouched by war at first, tensions mount, and things become more dangerous. It's eventually decided that Jude will go with her newly pregnant mother to America, where her mother's brother already lives with his family. Her father stays behind to take care of the family store, and her brother Issa remains to do his part to help at the war front.
Warga beautifully illustrates what it's like for Jude to discover an entirely new place and her own relationship to it. I love the way Warga shows what school is like for Jude, and I appreciate what we see about the ways people in the community do and don't help her and her mom fit into their new home. It's a powerful story about Jude finding her way forward in a new place while also deepening her love of her home country, and the verse is lyrical and so gorgeous.
I also love the way Warga shows what it is like for Jude as she starts her period and begins wearing the hijab. I really appreciate how we see through Jude's eyes the contrast between those who celebrate with Jude and honor the way that the hijab marks her entry into being a young adult juxtaposed with those who suddenly notice her and view her in a new, negative light, believing that they need to free her from some kind of oppression.
Warga shows the readers what Islamophobia can feel like and what it can be like to have to find your way in an American school as a new student who doesn't yet speak much English. The kindness of a few friends shines through many hard times, and we celebrate with Jude as she finds her way and learns more about who she is.
I absolutely loved Jasmine Warga's Other Words for Home and look forward to reading it with my daughters. Have you read this yet? Let us know what you thought in the comments or on social media @unabridgedpod.
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