By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH and Jean Schroeder, The IDEA School, Tucson, AZ
This month, we look at books that address the concept of home and how that concept might be different from the typical or stereotypical. This week, we give our takes on Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga.
HOLLY: So, this week, we also have a story about a young girl and how movement could create enormous displacement and emotional unsettling, but family holds it together. Jude is a Syrian girl who moves with her mother to stay with her mother’s brother and family in Cincinnati after civil war breaks out in Syria. Jude misses her home–and her father and brother who stay in Syria for different reasons. Her brother stays to join those who fight for a free and democratic country and her father stays to protect the family-owned business. Jude must learn to negotiate between what might be expected of her traditionally and what her life might be in America beyond the American movies and music she loved prior to moving. Learning to fit in and to know how she can remain loyal to her first home and yet open to this new place that is now her home requires a type of bravery she wonders if she has.
I love this book, and it especially resonates with me because it takes place in Cincinnati, right in the neighborhood around the University of Cincinnati. Talk about close to home! What do you think about the book, Jean?
JEAN: I also love this book. There is a softness to the tone that actually places me in each scene as an unseen observer and makes me tap into the emotions of the conflicts, the successes and the uncertainties. As the story begins, Jude and her mother are still in Syria and Jude seems aware of the political world but not interested much in it as she and her friend, Fatima, dream of being movie stars. Once she moves to the U.S. with her mom, Jude faces many challenges, you could say she has to grow up in a hurry. Yet the writing is so thoughtful, I do not feel hurried as a reader. Jude is faced with adjusting to life in America, learning a new language, figuring out school, coming of age and finding a place in her uncle’s family, especially with her American cousin. In other stories I have read that are built on similar issues the problems seem practically unsolvable. In Other Words for Home they are concerns to think through and work on with a side dish of hope ever present.
HOLLY: Yes, I feel the hope throughout this book, which makes it a nice read for middle level students. Given some of the issues, however, there could be more angst as Jude finds herself one of only two girls wearing the hijab in a large high school. I am kind of glad the author doesn’t go into what could have occurred and what has occurred to young women and girls who choose to wear coverings in the U.S. I don’t think those issues should be necessarily glossed over.
The issue that strikes me the most is hiding Jude’s letters to Fatima and the reason for it. I guess I don’t know how much we should keep from young people in respect to the world, especially given the current circumstances we wrestle with globally. I love the use of technology to make connections with the family in Syria, which helps readers recognize that other parts of the world are connected, are modern and not always as primitive as what the media can portray, giving a skewed sense of the world. How did you like the book’s ending, Jean?
JEAN: The thought also went through my head, “Oh, will the other kids harass her for wearing a hijab?” Such issues should not be glossed over, but I wonder if it would feel forced. As for the letters, I am so disappointed in the mother that the letters were not mailed! When that was revealed, I made an audible gasp. Throughout the book the two have such a positive relationship, and I feel it would be damaged. When the reason becomes clear, I found it acceptable, but there is a level of trust that is crossed and needs to be rebuilt. I agree with you about technology being a view on the world, and that they can see the new baby in real time is a great way to pull the idea of home together. Baby Amal is the essence of hope. Home is truly where the heart is and in this case all their hearts are focused on that baby no matter where they are located.
Title: Other Words For Home
Author: Jasmine Warga
Publisher: Blazer + Bray
PubDate: May 28, 2019
Throughout July 2020, Holly and Jean give their take on books that have won awards or honors this year. Check back each Wednesday to follow the conversation!