Friday, August 30, 2019

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

For 12-year-old Jude, life was happy and pleasant growing up in a tourist town by the sea in Syria. She was part of a loving family consisting of her father, mother, and older brother Issa and best friend Fatima lived next door. Both girls loved TV and American movies and wanted to be movies stars someday. But when the Arab Spring begins, and Issa joins the protest movement against the Syrian government, the life that Jude loves begins to change as well. Throughout Syria, towns are under siege and the people living in them are fleeing as fast as they can.

And although Jude's parents choose to not get involved with the protests, when it's learned that her mother is pregnant, a decision is made: Jude and her mother will travel to Cincinnati, Ohio and stay with her mother's brother and his family.

Jude and her mother are welcomed by her Uncle Mazin and Aunt Michelle, but cousin Sarah makes it clear that she wants nothing to do with Jude and is annoyed that they are even there: "She can't go to my school, Mom, Sarah says./She doesn't even speak English, she says./I spend the rest of that night/locked in the bathroom,/whispering to myself in the mirror./I speak English."

When school begins, Sarah hangs out with her friends, leaving Jude to figure out 7th grade and get by on her own. She is put into an ESL class, where she meets other students from Korea, China Somalia, also new and English learners. At first resentful, she comes to think of it a welcome part of her day, a place where she can relax and laugh.

Eventually, Jude discovers a Middle Eastern restaurant that feels and smells like home, run by the Lebanese parents of an older girl from school named Layla - finally a new friend.

As she adjusts to life in America, and her English improves, Jude decides to try out for a part for the school's production of Beauty and the Beast. Layla thinks she should work behind the scenes creating sets, but Jude wants to be on stage. So do Sarah and her friends. But when Jude gets a small speaking part in the school's production, will it be the thing that causes her to lose her friendship with Layla and all she has worked so hard to accomplish so far?

Jude is a wonderful character, she has, as the teacher in charge of the school play puts it, punch, liters of punch. When she leaves Syria, her brother tells her to "Be brave" and that is exactly what she tries to do in a place where she is so different from the other people. And she does it despite worrying about her father and brother back in Syria, despite not receiving a response to the letters she continuously sends to Fatima, and despite not always have support from her mother, and no help from her cousin.

Other Words for Home is an insightful verse novel that interrogates ideas about identity, and home. In Syria, Jude was just a girl, but in America, she is labelled "a Middle Eastern girl./A Syrian girl./A Muslim girl." And does leaving Syria mean she must give up thinking about it as home in order to find a home in the United States? Sadly, it will take a terrible act of racism for Jude to find the answer to that question.

Jude's story is divided into five parts, each one chronicling a different milestone in her journey as she struggles to understand who she is. Warga has captured all of Jude's emotional up and downs, her successes, her disappointments, and her fears in beautiful, lyrical free verse that feels so intimate, it is as though Jude has taken you into her confidences.

Other Words for Home is a story about family, hope, and dealing with the world on your own terms. It's a story that should not be missed.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Be sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, now being carried on by Greg at Always in the Middle. 


  1. The cover on this book is absolutely beautiful! It sounds as if this story deals with many topical issues and challenges currently facing a large population around the world. Thank you for bringing this title to my attention for MMGM.

  2. What a perfect story for our times. The MC sounds like a strong girls having to put up with more than her share of problems. I've added this one to my list of books to read. Thanks for featuring it today.

  3. I feel like I've seen this cover around a lot (it's lovely!) but I haven't read anything about the story itself. Thanks for sharing. I'm not a fan of verse novels, but this sounds like a good one to recommend.


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