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Other Words for Home

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
Other Words for Home Book Poster Image
Hopeful, relatable story of Syrian refugee in middle school.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Shows what it's like to try to fit into a school where no one speaks your native language and the classes, food, and school activities are different from anything you've ever known. When Jude makes the decision to wear a hijab, she writes that she's made the choice "not because I am ashamed/ forced/ or hiding./ But because I am/ proud/ and want to be seen/ as I am" and reminds readers that strong and respected young women like Malala Yousafzai also cover their heads. A Glossary of Arabic Words at the back of the book defines a number of words used in the text.

Positive Messages

Be brave. Don't be afraid to take a chance and try new things. It's not fair to judge people by their looks, their religion, or the country they came from.  

Positive Role Models & Representations

Before she left Syria, Jude's brother told her to "be brave" and she does just that. Jude has to learn on her own (with no help from her cousin Sarah) how to navigate a new school with a new language. When she finds that her English isn't as fluent as she once thought, she doesn't get upset about being in an ESL class but is grateful for all she can learn there. And when tryouts for the school musical are announced, she bravely steps up to audition.

Violence

The few violent episodes are described, but in only a few words and never graphically. Her brother's apartment is raided by armed police. There's shouting and people are shoved against walls.  Jude learns about a terrorist bomb that's gone off in a country outside of America and left blood in the streets. Pictures in newspaper show people bloody and cowering in a Syrian city. Jude writes about Allepo, Syria where her brother has gone to join anti-government forces and how families from across her country have been forced from their homes by the civil war. The word "Terrorists" is painted on the front of a restaurant owned by the family of Jude's friend Layla.

Sex
Language
Consumerism

Jude watches old American movies (Runaway Bride, Legally Blond, Pretty Woman) and she and her brother sing along with Whitney Houston.

 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Jasmine Warga's Other Words for Home is a novel in free verse written in the voice of Jude, a 12-year-old Syrian refugee who comes to live with her uncle's family in Ohio. Only one other student at her new school looks like her and and she's trying to understand why she's not seen as simply a girl, but instead now has a label: Middle Eastern Muslim. A handful of violent episodes (a bombing and a police raid) are described in only a few words and never graphically. The novel addresses serious and timely topics (the war in Syria, prejudice, what it means to be a refugee), that some parents may find too mature for younger readers. But any reader who's ever struggled to fit in after moving to a new town or felt alone on the first day at a new school will easily identify with Jude.

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What's the story?

Home for 12-year-old Jude, the young Syrian refugee who tells her story in OTHER WORDS FOR HOME, has always been a city on the Mediterranean coast filled with tourists who buy candy and soft drinks from her father's shop. She loves American movies and pop music, imitates the way Reese Witherspoon speaks English, and dreams of becoming a movie star when she grows up. But Syria is descending into civil war and her brother, Issa, is leaving home to join anti-government forces fighting for democracy. When Jude's mother learns she's pregnant, her parents decide to send Jude and her mother to visit her uncle and his family who live in Cincinnati, Ohio (no one tells her for how long). Her cousin Sarah makes no effort to introduce Jude to her friends and leaves her to eat lunch alone in the school cafeteria. As she begins seveth grade, Jude finds only one other student who looks like her; a girl named Layla, whose family is from Lebanon. But she enjoys her classes, even ESL, where she's assigned after learning that her English isn't as fluent as she thought. Remembering her brother's words to her before she left Syria ("Be brave"), Jude auditions for and gets a small part in the school musical. But her joy is overshadowed by a terrorist attack in an unidentified city far away from America. Layla warns Jude she's about to learn "what it means to be a/ Muslim/ in America." Jude doesn't believe her until she starts to get "unsure" looks from fellow students and a man follows her yelling "go back to where you came from." 

Is it any good?

The poignant, inspiring, and relatable story of a young Syrian refugee discovering who she is, where she belongs, and what it means to be brave. Although Other Words for Home is written for middle graders, the serious issues addressed in the novel (the war in Syria, the place of refugees in American society, prejudice against Muslims) make it an informative read for older teens as well.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the prejudice Jude faces in Other Words for Home. Why do you think it's so easy for people to judge others on how they look or how they dress?

  • How difficult is it for new students to fit in at your school? Are students quick to introduce themselves to newcomers and offer to help? What do you think is the most important thing you could do to make a new student feel welcome and accepted?

  • Have you ever been in a school play or musical? Does it take courage to try out? Would you want to be one of the actors, or would you like help with the sets or costumes?

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