Every once in a while a book lands in your hands at the exact right moment and you thank the book universe for its delivery. Other Words for Home, Jasmine Warga’s first novel for middle grade readers, does just that. Written in verse, this story is a tale of a young girl, Jude, leaving her brother, father, and home in war torn Syria behind to find new life in America with her mother. Torn between two worlds and not feeling like she truly belongs in either, Jude attempts to fit in and struggles along the way.
Mama hugs me and I hold her back. Sometimes all you can do is hold on.” ~ Jude
Jude’s obsession with American icons like Julia Roberts and the movie Practical Magic, paint one picture of America that doesn’t always match the version that Jude faces. At a time when American sentiment towards anyone from the Middle East is often wrought with tension, Jude is faced with trying to find her voice and define what truly makes a home. She takes bold risks that defy what others expect of her and holds fast to the hope that it will get better.
Hoping, I’m starting to think, might be the bravest thing a person can do.” ~ Jude
This poignant read is a must. Used as a shared summer text amongst colleagues, this book opened up deep conversations about the desire to fit in and for students to see themselves in our classrooms and in our texts. Our experiences are often not the same as our students and it is our job as educators to help students find their voice and their place in our schools. Passed from one colleague to another and onto their children, all agreed that this book and its beautiful story deserve a place in classroom libraries.
Readers will tear up over Jude’s struggles and cheer at her triumphs. Students in grades 4-7 will especially love the verse style of this story and Jude’s determination. It is perfect for book clubs because as Jude says, “It is lovely to be a part of something that feels bigger than you.”