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'Other Words For Home' Is A Middle-Grade Immigrant Story That Adult Readers Will Enjoy, Too

Jasmine Warga
Jasmine Warga

It’s been a while since I scoured the middle-grade section of my local bookstore for a good read. But there’s something about summer that puts me in the mood for that genre, like a kid jockeying for prizes in the library’s summer reading program.

Other Words for Home is a middle-grade debut from Jasmine Warga, and it’s well worth checking out—even for grownups. It’s the story of Jude, a young girl living in a tourist town on the coastline of Syria. When the Arab Spring erupts, she leaves her father and older brother behind and moves with her mother to Cincinnati to live with relatives. Jude struggles to find her identity, wanting so badly to fit in with American classmates but not wanting to forget her home country, language, food or culture.

The novel is written in free-verse and deals with some difficult topics, including anti-Arab harassment. Fans of Jacqueline Woodson or Kwame Alexander will appreciate its structure and its stark, poetic power.

Mostly, though, this is a book about resilience and hope. Jude discovers new friends, an expanded family, and unexpected surprises in a school musical that she bravely auditions for.

“Lucky. I am learning how to say it / over and over again in English,” Warga writes. “I am learning how it tastes --- / sweet with promise / and bitter with responsibility.”

Warga, the daughter of a Jordanian father, says she “wrote Jude for my twelve-year-old self, who never saw a brown girl in a book who was proud of her family and where she came from.” Lots of girls—and adults—should be grateful she did.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.