Aisha Saeed’s middle grade debut, Amal Unbound, is a heartbreaking, poignant reminder not to give up, and the power of education.
Main character Amal, a young Pakistani girl, is the kind of person we should all want to be. Amal Unbound takes on a lot of hard issues. It doesn’t shy away from the hard truths and the nuances of reality, despite its intended middle-grade audience.
Life is quiet and ordinary in Amal’s Pakistani village in Amal Unbound, but she has no complaints, and besides, she’s busy pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher one day. Her dreams are temporarily dashed when–as the eldest daughter–she must stay home from school to take care of her siblings. Amal is upset, but she doesn’t lose hope and finds ways to continue learning. Then the unimaginable happens–after an accidental run-in with the son of her village’s corrupt landlord, Amal must work as his family’s servant to pay off her own family’s debt.
Life at the opulent Khan estate is full of heartbreak and struggle for Amal–especially when she inadvertently makes an enemy of a girl named Nabila. Most troubling, though, is Amal’s growing awareness of the Khans’ nefarious dealings. When it becomes clear just how far they will go to protect their interests, Amal realizes she will have to find a way to work with others if they are ever to exact change in a cruel status quo, and if Amal is ever to achieve her dreams. Goodreads
I received an eARC of Amal Unbound via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Honestly, I couldn’t keep myself from reading it for long.
Amal Unbound needs some content warnings for classism, sexism, withholding education, postpartum depression, poverty, crushing debt, indentured servitude, and physical and emotional abuse. It deals with all of these things in a way that will be completely understandable for its young audience.
Amal Unbound doesn’t shy away from any of the hardships that are a reality for so many. I believe that this made its happy ending even more powerful. Amal, like so many other people in her situation, got to go home at the end of the story. Her home life is not perfect, but it is hers to choose, and that’s what matters.
I loved that Saeed didn’t try to humanize Jawad the way she did with Nasreen Baji. Jawad was irredeemable, while Nasreen was merely complicit in her husband and son’s evildoing. Amal’s care for Nasreen was a nuance that I hadn’t expected, given how Nasreen caved to her son’s demands and did nothing to stop him from treating her family and the other villagers like animals.
At its heart, Amal Unbound is hope and light wrapped in an important story of the realities of other people’s lives. I highly recommend it.
“There are brave girls all over the world. They may feel afraid sometimes, like Amal. But doing the right thing despite the risks it may involve is the bravest thing in the world. It is my hope that this story shines a light on brave girls everywhere.”
– Aisha Saeed, Amal Unbound Afterword
You can purchase a copy of Amal Unbound on Amazon, Indiebound or Barnes and Noble!
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