Middle grade novel Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga (HarperCollins, 2019) captures one teen girl’s perspective as a Syrian refugee to America. Even without using dates within the text, Other Words for Home feels sadly applicable today since the Syrian conflict still rages and refugees flee to America from many different countries.
Jude’s life suddenly changes when her parents tell her it’s time to leave their remote village in Syria to live in America with a relative, whom she doesn’t know. Leaving her father and rebellious brother behind for now, Jude and her mother travel to America. Jude faces difficult new challenges in America, including dealing with anti-Muslim sentiment, language speaking difficulty, and discrimination as a refugee. She has a strong determination to succeed and survive and it is her confidence in herself that helps her make America feel like home.
The parts of the book are divided in the following sections: Changing, Arriving, Staying, Hoping, Growing, Living. I don’t think these are the “other words for home” that the title refers to, but I do think they reflect Jude’s various feelings toward her changing “home.” What was once a familiar and common place quickly begins to change in the first section, and then there is a distinct difference from arriving and feeling like you are staying. Although I’ve never been a refugee, I could relate to this progression through those various stages of finding home, a relatable experience only inasmuch as I’ve moved to a new place and had to begin anew in finding my way.
Instead of referring to actual words, maybe the title instead might be referring to the various feelings of home. After all, Jude’s slower English means that she doesn’t really have the words for her discomfort as she arrives in America. The free verse, open-thought writing style let me feel like I was privy to her feelings as she experienced what she did. I do feel like I need to revisit this 2020 Newbery Honor book someday in order to better consider the title in relation to the story and characters involved. I believe there is more than meets the eye here. Jude was a likeable and strong protagonist, and her story gave me insight into one type of refugee experience and how a strong young woman can overcome the struggles involved. I think tweens and young teenagers would likewise appreciate this moving, realistic story.
I rate OTher Words for Home Newbery Honor book “fantastic” and say “keep it and read it.”
Newbery rating scale: FANTASTIC | REALLY GOOD | PRETTY GOOD | OKAY | BLAH
What to do with this Newbery: KEEP IT AND READ IT | MAYBE IF YOU HAVE TIME | DON’T BOTHER