[Other Words for Home]: A Review

Hi y’all!

I hope you are having a fantastic October! We are busy with school. activities, and fun. Loving the cooler weather around here and the coziness of home.

Today I am really excited to share my review of Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga. A good friend of mine recommended this to me recently and I absolutely loved it! It won a Newbery Honor in 2020 and I think it was worth of the Newbery Medal. This was an easy book to get invested in. And it’s also a quick read — I finished in only a few sittings.

Initial Thoughts:

  • I’ve been on a bit of a refugee story streak this fall. There are so many great stories about refugees and I have been honored to read a few of them. I appreciate how these stories have helped me be a bit more open and kind with those around me. I recently shared a refugee and immigrant stories book list with several favorites.
  • This book is so beautiful! I bought it soon after finishing it; I love the colors of the cover and the feel of the book. It’s a lovely one!

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Book Summary: “I am learning how to be
sad
and happy
at the same time.

Jude never thought she’d be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives.

At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t quite prepared her for starting school in the US—and her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before. But this life also brings unexpected surprises—there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is.

I loved the verse form and getting Jude’s story in poetic language. Novels in verse is a favorite new genre for me over the past few years (some of my favorites include The Crossover and Inside Out and Back Again). I love the ways that verse gives a story new dimension and space. In this novel, the writing is so beautiful, and the imagery is sharp and gorgeous. I loved the way the author uses the page to make certain words stand out and the way the words flow down the pages. The way the words sit on the page is part of the story. I like to read these types of books out loud because hearing the words is even more powerful than reading them.

Jude is an immediately likable protagonist and so easy to cheer for! I loved her personality, her love of American movies and actresses. And the ways she is brave and true to herself even when it’s hard. Her strength as she moves to America was so beautifully expressed. She takes on so many important responsibilities like taking care of her mother while balancing her worries for her Baba (father) and brother, Issa.  I could feel her emotions — her fears and her joys. From the first moment we meet her, I was cheering for Jude. I wanted her to succeed both in her homeland and in America. I was completely invested in her story.

One of the most interesting elements of this story is seeing how Jude interacts with her classmates, friends, and family. I liked her relationship with Layla and the ways they are different yet similar. Their heritage is so similar but their backgrounds have some interesting differences. I loved Miles friendship and how he treats Jude as a friend, not as someone different than himself. I even liked Jude’s relationship with her cousin Sarah and the complexities of that relationship. I was fascinated by her relationship with her brother Issa and the love, fear, loyalty and hurt that goes into that relationship. I also loved the changing relationship between Jude and her mother. At first, her mother resists connecting with American culture and mourns Jude’s loss of her heritage. But I appreciated the way their relationship evolves with their experiences and how much they buoy each other up as the story progresses. Beyond her personal relationships, Jude’s story offers a unique glimpse into the lives of refugees from middle eastern countries. I thought it was so interesting to get her side of the story with the way people treat and mistreat refugees when tragedy strikes elsewhere. And how people judge her without knowing her. Interesting when she begins wearing her hijab and people make assumptions about why she does that. I learned a lot about Muslim and Syrian culture from this book. I appreciate all the details! I have very limited knowledge about the conflicts in Syria so reading about Jude (even in a fictionalized story) was interesting and instructive for me.

This book is so important, hopeful and engaging! Jude’s story is a necessary one for us to share and hopefully change the way we see each other. Loved the way it ends with such hope and luckiness for the future!

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Which refugee stories have changed the way you see the world?
Would you recommend other books about Syrian refugees in particular?

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