Three hundred and forty pages written in verse that beautifully consume you and leave you emotionally changed and vulnerable and humbled all at once. The book claims it is for middle grades, but I think middle school will appreciate it more, and I sincerely hope everyone of all ages will take a couple of hours to fall under the spell that is woven to tell a story of a refugee leaving home and starting anew in America.
Jude is a 12 year old girl living on the beach in Syria, watching American movies with her friends and hanging out at her dad’s store. With an older brother and a little sister on the way, life as told from her own perspective is pretty good. Until it is not. Until the crimes they only hear about happening in Aleppo and Damascus start to hit closer to home. Until her brother starts sneaking out to meetings with other youth hoping to change the politics of their country. Until a raid almost catches Jude and her brother and her parent’s decide it is time for Jude and her mother to journey to America, for a little while, to visit her mom’s brother and deliver the baby.
America is not like it is in the 90’s movies that Jude loves: Pretty Woman, Legally Blond, Miss Congeniality. Her American aunt and her Uncle that seems to have forgotten his Syrian upbringing, are gracious and welcoming and their daughter, Sarah, who is less than a year older than Jude waxes and wanes in her approach to her cousin. Adjusting to school, life without baba and her brother, and all the other adaptations that moving to a new country entail are brought to life through Jude’s eyes and understanding of the world around her. As she comes of age and decides to wear hijab, as Islamaphobia shakes her sense of justice, and her little sister is born, the reader sees her grow and change and mature and find themselves hoping that she will soar.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I love that the style of the story telling somehow gives life to so much. With verse some things are highlighted in detail and other things skimmed over and yet at the end, not only do you feel like you understand Jude, but a lot of the side characters as well, which caught me off guard. Truly the writing is strong and deliberate. A lot of the politics and war crimes occurring in Syria are not detailed, and I have to assume that is because the point of view is a 12 year old girl that is blissfully in her own world. I imagine this is also why the target audience is listed as 8-12 year olds, because it simplifies a truly horrific situation. Also because despite moments of raw vulnerability, the book stays pretty optimistic and hopeful.
I like that the characters are Muslim, and that the mom scolds her brother for not going to the mosque. The book does talk about Jude’s period starting and thus Jude starting to wear hijab, which is one of the reasons I feel like early middle school might be a bit more appropriate age group. There isn’t too much talk about faith and Islamic beliefs, but a few tidbits are sprinkled in, prayer, not eating pork, modesty. The book is not gender exclusive, but I think girls will gravitate much more to Jude’s perspective, experiences and voice.
The only thing I found a bit off is that the book takes place in modern time, present day, yet none of them have cell phones or social media. Jude Skypes her dad, yet writes letters to her friend back in Syria and is distraught when they don’t have a forwarding address to send them to after her friend also leaves home. It seems that social media, email, a cell phone number, something would be available for them to all keep in touch.
There is mention of Jude and her friends having to sneak in to see Pretty Woman because Julia Roberts is a prostitute, and mention of blood between one’s legs and periods starting. The book otherwise is pretty clean. It hints at her kind of crushing on a boy that is in the play with her, but nothing more than friendship is explored. Violence mentioned is minimal and language is clean even when dealing with hate crimes in America.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
There is a good chance that next year the students joining the middle school book club will be all girls, so if that is the case and the school counselor feels all the girls can handle the puberty aspects mentioned I would totally do this book. The book reads very quick and might be a good way to get new kid to give a book club a try as well.
Author’s website: http://jasminewarga.com/about