fiction · middle grade

Book Review: Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

Another library ebook for me! Next up on my TBR was Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga (Balzer and Bray, 2019). This has been on my list since I first learned about it. I always forget how great middle grade books are- my son has been out of that age range for quite a while and my daughter isn’t ready for most of those books in terms of interest (reading ability, yes; interest, ehhhhhh), so I don’t spend a ton of time in that section quite yet. But I learned about this book on a list of multicultural middle grade books, and after reading that it was about a Syrian girl who leaves her home to live in the US, onto my TBR it went. (And look at that gorgeous cover!)

Jude has lived in Syria all her life with her parents and older brother. She’s always loved American things, right along with her best friend, but when life starts getting complicated in her home country, she travels with her pregnant mother to live in Cincinnati with an uncle and his family, leaving her father and her missing brother behind. Life in America is complicated. Jude, who used to be the best at English in her school in Syria, is now struggling to understand both the language and the culture around her. No one seems to want to try to understand her. She misses her father, she’s worried about her brother and her best friend (who isn’t answering her letters), and her cousin Sarah seems to hate her.

Bit by bit, Jude pulls together a life for herself in America. Her English improves; she makes friends in her ESOL class, a Muslim friend, and a friend from her math class; she works up the courage to try out for the school play. When anti-Muslim sentiments start up in her town, it’s not what Jude had hoped for in her new life, but she responds with courage and dignity, just as she takes on the rest of her journey.

Written in verse, Other Words for Home is a look at a young girl tasked with starting over under difficult circumstances, how she rallies, and how the people around her make her new life both easier and more difficult. There are plenty of helpers, but there are plenty of people- including adults- who try to bring her down.

This is a quick read, but it’s a great one. It would make an utterly fabulous read for a mother-daughter book club (especially if you’re looking for books that touch on immigration and/or refugees, the crises in Syria, and Muslim girls. Heads up for a few mentions of menstruation, a few mentions of bombings, and several instances of anti-Muslim behavior- all of which are things that kids in this target reader age are either likely to be discussing or need to discuss with adults, but sometimes parents need a little bit of time to think and prep for how they want to approach these subjects).

Jude is a delight of a character, strong and determined and an excellent role model (not necessary for a character, but it’s nice when you come across one). She works hard to understand the whys of her life: why are she and her mother moving to the US; why is her father staying behind; why does her brother feel the need to fight; why are people treating her this way in America (not sure there’s really an answer for that, to be honest). She works hard at everything she does, even when it’s difficult, and she never stops trying, even when she’s pretty sure she’ll fail. A new immigrant, still learning the language, trying out for a school play? RESPECT. I didn’t even have enough courage to try out for my school plays when I’ve lived here my whole life. I would have been in utter awe of Jude when I was young. I wish I’d known girls like her. Maybe I did and didn’t even know it.

Super great read, this one. I always enjoy a good novel in verse, but the subject matter and Jude as a narrator really hit it home for me.

Visit Jasmine Warga’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

poetry

Chasers of the Light: Poems From the Typewriter Series- Tyler Knott Gregson

Poetry.

Other than a few poems here and there (including the poetry in the last book I read) and reading Shel Silverstein with my kids, I haven’t really read poetry since my early 20’s. I used to enjoy Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and Robert Frost…but that was pretty much it. Other than those authors, poetry always kind of seemed…flowery…to me. Inaccessible. For other people, but not for me.

Enter the Book Riot 2019 Read Harder Challenge, where one of the tasks is to read a collection of poetry published since 2014. I stared at that part of the list and thought, ‘Okay, guess I’m reading some poetry this year!’

When I visited the library with my list of available books, I originally meant to check out The Sobbing School by Joshua Bennett, but someone else appeared to have grabbed that first, so instead, I grabbed the other book from the list that they stocked, Chasers of the Light: Poems From the Typewriter Series by Tyler Knott Gregson (Tarcher Perigee, 2014) and added it to my stack. It’s a small, smooth book that fit nicely with my other books, and I had to say, I was looking forward to reading it. I’ve really been enjoying reading outside my usual genres this year, and it felt good to be trying something I hadn’t attempted to read in a long time.

Gregson begins the book with the story of coming across a typewriter in a secondhand store, typing a poem on it with one of the blank sheets torn from a book he was buying, and the typewriter then followed him home. The majority of the poetry in this book appears to be typed on torn-out pages, receipts, and other scraps; others are set against Gregson’s own photography, and still others emerge from pages where he has blacked out the rest of the text (these were really neat, and this would make a fabulous exercise for any writing teacher, if they could bring themselves to destroy a book in order to do it!). Aesthetically speaking, this is a really pleasant book.

The poetry, I thought, was lovely. Several made me stop and think; I often had to reread because I found the lines beautiful and wanted to let the words resonate. One in particular stopped me short, the imagery stunning: ‘I want to leave goosebumps/everywhere I have not yet/ kissed and spend the night/ trying to read them/ like Braille.’

I’LL HAVE WHAT SHE’S HAVING. *fans self*

I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this quite as much as I did. I have a BAZILLION things on my TBR list, and I don’t know that I’ll be running to the poetry section every trip to the library, but…maybe once in a while, I’ll check it out. Because…I did enjoy this. Although I’m sure I’ll enjoy it more when I don’t have my daughter chattering in my ear as I’m trying to read. 😉

If you’re interested in knowing more about what kind of poetry is in this book, Tyler Knott Gregson has a Pinterest board dedicated to poems from this series. Check it out and see if this is a style you might enjoy reading.

Visit Tyler Knott Gregson’s website here.

Follow him on Twitter here.