This school year, the IRC in Atlanta’s Youth Futures afterschool program began a new initiative inspired by the students’ desire to read more books, for fun and to improve their English language skills. We now hold a weekly Book Club where students read a portion of the chosen book on their own each week, then gather to discuss their favorite parts, ask questions, and connect the stories to their personal experiences.
Our first book choice was Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga, which tells the story of a Syrian girl named Jude who moves to Ohio with her mother to escape the conflict in their home country. Jude struggles to adjust to life in America as she tries to fit in with her peers at school, learn English, and deal with incidents of Islamophobia – all the while worrying about her father and brother back in Syria. Then Jude surprises everyone by trying out for the school play and finds within herself strength and bravery that she didn’t even know she had.
The girls in our Book Club related to each and every beautifully crafted chapter, reminded continually of their own thoughts, fears, and personal victories. One student, Rukaiya (11th grade) reflected that she liked this book so much because “it tells the familiar story of your body being in one place, and your soul being in another.” Several students loved the passage that reads, “I am learning how to be sad and happy at the same time (pg. 49).” They are grateful to be in the U.S. with all the opportunities it presents, but they miss the warmth and extended family of home. During one part of the book, Jude overhears her cousin saying Jude can’t go to her school because “she doesn’t even speak English,” causing her to “spend the rest of that night locked in the bathroom, whispering to [herself] in the mirror I speak English (pg. 79).” 9th grade student Khee Lar responded, “I do that too! I look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘One day, I will speak English so cool!’”
Meet the author
As we finished our first Book Club book, the students came up with questions that they wished they could ask the author. Little did they know that they were in for a big surprise! Thanks to our awesome Youth Futures volunteer Ms. Ann, we were able to arrange a Skype call with the author herself! The girls were shocked when they saw her face on the computer screen and joyfully asked her question after question about her writing process and the plot and if there would be a sequel or a movie because they loved the story so much.
A 10th grade student named Ehab took the opportunity to share her desire to be a writer and asked the author for advice. Warga encouraged her to read as much as possible and to keep practicing writing, explaining that “it is like a muscle – the more you use it, the stronger it gets, and the better you get at it.” The next week Ehab showed Youth Futures staff member Ms. Cait the draft of a story she had written over the weekend, about a girl from Sudan dreaming of becoming president. She also asked for more books as she had already finished the stack of paperbacks that she had taken home the week before.
A diverse reading list
While discussing the next book choice, the girls requested more stories about young refugee women and their experiences of overcoming challenges to achieve their dreams. Specifically, they asked to read books about girls from each of their home countries – a challenge considering our Book Club is made up of Sudanese, Afghan, Ugandan, Congolese, Syrian, and Karen students. Thankfully, we were able to find the perfect choice – Malala Yousafzai’s most recent book We are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World, which features the stories of strong, brave young women from almost every country represented in our group.
Our Youth Futures Book Club is now on their fourth book of the school year, Symptoms of a Heartbreak by Sona Charaipotra, a contemporary romantic comedy about a girl genius who becomes the youngest doctor in America, while balancing the challenges of being a teen and falling in love. The students also loved reading the dystopian young adult (YA) novel Divergent by Veronica Roth. We had many debates about which faction each person belongs in, then celebrated finishing the book with a Divergent movie watching party over winter break!
We are excited to encourage the growth of these young readers (and writers!) Generous donations from community members like you allow us to purchase the books our students are most interested in reading and help us to keep our Clarkston High School ‘Little Free Library’ well-stocked! If you would like to make a donation towards purchasing books for future Book Clubs, or if you would like to donate YA books from diverse voices, please contact Caitlin.Fogerty [at] Rescue.org.
To learn more about the work of the IRC in Atlanta and for information on how you can get involved with the IRC as a donor or volunteer, please contact Development Manager, Kalie Lasiter, at Kalie.Lasiter [at] Rescue.org or 678-636-8941.