Drita, My Homegirl

by Jenny Lombard (2006)

“It’s better to have one true friend than a million others.”

It’s a classic story of the new kid trying to find her way, but Jenny Lombard breathes new life into the genre by introducing Drita and her family, refugees from war-torn Kosovo.

Drita’s classmate, Maxie, is facing her own family and in-school difficulties.  But over the course of the novel, they both discover that they have more in common than meets the eye.  Believe it or not – they bond over basketball!  Maxie may eat chicken and dumplings at home, while Drita eats byrek me mish, but both girls are trying to make their school life work while facing challenges at home.  A teacher who sees beyond the surface comes up with a plan to help both girls navigate fourth grade and learn the wisdom of friendship.

While the backstory of Drita’s life is difficult, Jenny Lombard treats it with care, providing an opening for age-appropriate discussions of the reality of families forced to leave everything behind.  The author also adds humanity to Maxie’s story, where tough-girl bravado masks real loss.

Told in alternating points of view, Drita, My Homegirl deftly brings two cultures together, allowing the reader to see two girls handling the pressures of growing up under difficult circumstances. Drita and Maxie learn and teach important lessons about perseverance, the power of kindness, and the importance of friendship.  Ultimately they learn, as Drita’s gyshe says, “Kush e dí sí e ka hallin.  Sometimes there is more to people than meets the eye.”