A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Jasmine Warga's Other Words for Home won a 2020 Newbery Honor. It's 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. There are a couple of brief mentions of two girls getting their first periods. 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.
- Parents say
- Kids say
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 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?
- Author: Jasmine Warga
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Book Characters, Great Girl Role Models, Middle School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Balzer + Bray
- Publication date: May 28, 2019
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 9 - 16
- Number of pages: 342
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Awards: ALA Best and Notable Books, Newbery Medal and Honors
- Last updated: February 4, 2020
Our editors recommend
For kids who love refugee stories and middle school tales
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.