A displaced Muslim girl adjusts to America as a second, “Other Home” in this well-written verse novel.
Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga. Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins), 2019, 332 pages
Reading Level: Middle Grades, 10-12
Recommended for: ages 10-15, especially girls
Jude’s father and brother Issa have been arguing about politics, but so far that hasn’t disturbed the tranquility of their beach-resort town in Syria. Then Issa leaves home to join the rebellion against Bashir Assad, and the nearby city of Aleppo blows up, and Baba decides that Syria is too dangerous for his pregnant wife and daughter. The solution is to send them to Cincinnati, where Uncle Mazin is a Doctor with a big house that can accommodate them “for a short visit.” No one knows how short (or long) that visit will be. But Jude, a vivacious kid who loves movies and Julia Roberts and Syria, will be out of step in America. Not only are her tastes in pop culture hopelessly retrograde, she can’t help feeling that her cousin Sarah would rather not have to extend the hospitality any longer than necessary.
Similar fish-out-of-water stories have been told many times. This one stands out for its sensitivity to a character from a different culture who is nonetheless recognizable as a normal girl with a girl’s normal anxieties and hopes—even show-biz aspirations! Jude finds her place and plenty to like about America, without sacrificing any love for her country or family. The story is told in verse, with many thought-provoking insights.
- One section calls for sensitive handling: when Jude starts her period, meaning she is of an age to start wearing hijab. Her first grownup decision is to do so voluntarily. Worth thinking about: do Western girls have a similar rite of passage? Should they?
- “Lucky” is a word Jude encounters in America: “I am learning how to say it/ over and over in English./ I am learning how it tastes— / sweet with promise/ and bitter with responsibility.” It’s a striking thought. What do you think she means by this?
Overall rating: 3.75 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 3.5
- Artistic/literary value: 4.5
Other Words for Home is not overtly political, unlike other takes on Syrian refugees: see our reviews of Nowhere Boy, Refugee, and Illegal. An excellent novel about middle-eastern immigrants is The Sky at Our Feet.
We are participants in the Amazon LLC affiliate program; purchases you make through affiliate links like the one below may earn us a commission. Read more here.