By Maureen Tai, 22 August 2022
Other Words for Home (ages 10+) is a lyrical, thoughtful and ultimately hopeful middle grade, verse novel about the flight of a young Syrian girl and her mother from their conflict-torn homeland. Jude is like any other teenage girl: she has a best friend with whom she does everything, she loves snacking on her favourite teatime treats (to the detriment of dinner), and she adores movies, fancying herself a doppelgänger for a glamorous American movie star. Only now, Jude is miles away from her old life and from her old home: parted from half of her immediate family, her best friend, her favourite cafe, even Arabic, her mother tongue. Anxious and bereft, the young girl must be strong for her mother and learn to adjust to her new life in America. Jude replays her older brother’s parting whisper of “Be brave“, over and over again like a mantra as she faces the uncertainties of life as a refugee in a country that slowly, but sure, becomes another place she can call home. The honest and beautiful storytelling explores difficult topics – racism, war, death – with a reverent but light touch, making this novel suitable even for younger readers who might find such topics emotionally challenging. As an adult reader, I was particularly taken with the clever and subtle way in which the author weaves in references to the protagonist’s Syrian/Muslim culture, for example the Arabic proverb: She cannot give what she does not have. I feel that I too now, like Jude, better understand what it means, and am all the better for it.