Other Words for Home

by Jasmine Warga
First sentence: “It’s almost summer and everywhere smells like fish, except for right by the sea where if you hold your nose just right you can smell the sprawling jasmine and the salt water instead.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s talk of periods starting. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Jude lives in a seaside Syrian town, and she’s happy with her life: her father runs a store that caters mostly to tourists, and she and her best friend and her brother love what they can get of American culture. But then the civil war breaks out, and Jude’s older brother disappears and Jude’s parents decide to send her and her mother to the U.S. to live with family. They say it’s for a “visit”, but that visit turns into months as the situation in Syria gets worse. Jude learns English, starts the seventh grade, and figures out how to navigate both her family life — her American, half-white cousin isn’t terribly thrilled about Jude coming to live with them — and her school.

This is a very sweet novel in verse, telling the story of a new immigrant and how she learns to adjust to life in the U. S. I read several of these sorts of stories for my multicultural children’s literature class, and I have to say that while this has many similarities, it’s also a different story. Jude is dealing with post-9/11 Islamophobia and so when she chooses to wear the hijab after her period starts, she has to deal with the fact that she’s wearing a visual representation of a religion that is often maligned in the U.S. It also deals with her everyday difficulties: understanding slang, getting along with classmates, trying to figure out where she belongs all while dealing with uncertainty about her brother and father back in Syria. It’s done quite well, and in a way that I think kids will relate to. It’s not just an important book, it’s a very good one.

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A Land of Permanent Goodbyes

by Atia Abawi
First sentence: “You were born to die.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: January 23, 2018
Content: There are some disturbing scenes of violence in the book, both due to war and due to extremists. It will be in the Young Adult (grades 6-8) section of the bookstore.

I’m going to say this up front: I couldn’t finish this one. It’s not because it was bad; it’s actually an important book, being about the Syrian civil war and the things the refugees go through to survive. It’s stark and unflinching.

And it’s narrated by Destiny.

Which is my problem.

Much like The Book Thief, I just couldn’t get into a book narrated by an ephemeral, all-seeing third entity. I just can’t. I tried. I gave it half the book, and I’d be okay with it for a while, but then Destiny would stick its nose into the story and pull me back out of it.

I was in the minority with The Book Thief, and I suspect I’ll be in the minority with this one. As I said, it’s important. It’s a book about an important subject, written by a person of color. I just wish I could have finished it.