“Americans love labels. They help them know what to expect. Sometimes, though, I think labels stop them from thinking.”
Jude is only twelve-years-old when she leaves Syria to live to live with her uncle’s family in the US. Being the only student who looks like her, she begins to discover that she isn’t seen as a normal girl like her peers. Told in verse, Other Words for Home follows her journey to understanding her new label of “Middle Eastern” while also finding herself.
I adored this book. Jude is the sweetest protagonist and her story was so inspiring and relatable. Growing up, Jude was obsessed with movies and becoming a star, so she is obviously surprised when she must move away from her coastal home when it descends into a civil war. Along with her pregnant mother, she must leave her family, father and brother, behind, and comes face-to-face with the life she had thought she knew from the movies.
Her life in the states is new but straining. Her cousin Sarah makes no effort to help, her aunt tries her best, and her new peers see her as something different. She reminds herself of her brother’s goodbye message. “Be brave.” Slowly, she grows to enjoy her new classes and even makes new friends in her ESL classes where they all bond over their experiences of coming to the states. Much to her cousins’ dismay, she even auditions for the school musical. Jude is such an insightful narrator; her confidence, her insecurities and her confusion all come through in the pages.
Other Words tackles tough to talk about topics like Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim rhetoric. The way it manifests in Jude’s life is so subtle and real, like Jude realising how people actions towards her suddenly shift when she begins to wear the hijab. The book takes on the idea that not all Muslims shares the same experience, and this is just Jude’s story. There was something comforting reading about a young Muslim girl experiencing her spirituality on her terms. You don’t get that often. Her fear and confusion were portrayed so well, something that I experienced a lot as a Muslim kid growing up which makes this book a lot more special.
Overall, Other Words for Home is a story of becoming and belonging and what it means to be yourself in a society that would rather see otherwise. A middle-grade read that tackles topics like war, refugees and prejudice, a definite recommendation for younger children and older teens.