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Amal Unbound

Review

Amal Unbound

Aisha Saeed delivers a vibrant, moving story that explores urgent contemporary themes through a middle grade narrative. AMAL UNBOUND tackles complex issues and Saeed elucidates them deftly, crafting an accessible and immersive story that will speak to young readers and beyond. It’s no easy thing to render such tough issues clearly for a middle grade audience, while also emphasizing characters who are multi-faceted and easy to root for, and Saeed rises to the task.

"AMAL UNBOUND is a fiercely gorgeous novel. It’s deeply felt, stirring and riveting....It’s an important, crucial story, and it can be read widely...it feels like an excellent title to teach...."

Amal is the eldest daughter in a small modern-day Pakistani village. When her mother gives birth to yet another girl and struggles to recover, Amal must step into her role as the primary woman of the household. Amal loves her family, and wants to support them. But as days pass and she’s expected to miss more and more school, her desire to return to her classes increases. Amal absolutely loves to learn, and to learn widely and deeply. She has an unquenchable curiosity, and she has been working so hard to excel at her studies so she can one day become a teacher, to continue to learn and to and pass on her knowledge.

So when she must take a step back from her studies to step in for her mother’s role, she becomes frustrated --- and careless. One fateful afternoon in the marketplace and one (understandably!) lost temper costs Amal more than she can bear. She unintentionally crosses one of the most powerful members of her village’s ruling class. The debt she incurs is too steep for her family to pay, so Amal is forced to enter indentured servitude and work at their estate. She must bid her family goodbye, as well as any chance at choosing her own future.

Amal has never been a servant before, and navigating the Khans’ estate is a terrifying experience. The family matriarch takes a liking to Amal, which complicates Amal’s relationships with the other servants. She feels devastatingly alone --- except for when she manages to sneak books from the library. Except when she discovers that she can teach one of the other girls to read, and write, and steal brief moments of what feels like freedom through the written word.

But when the extent of the Khans’ cruelty becomes all too clear, Amal realizes that a semblance of freedom cannot suffice. She must be brave, even in the face of frightening odds.

AMAL UNBOUND is a fiercely gorgeous novel. It’s deeply felt, stirring and riveting. It explores class and gender; it encourages girls to persevere and be courageous. It’s an important, crucial story, and it can be read widely --- it feels like an excellent title to teach, as well as to add to middle-grade libraries and bookshelves. I loved this book, I loved the friendships between girls, I loved everything about Amal. I can’t wait to read more from this author!

Reviewed by Maya Gittelman on May 29, 2018

Amal Unbound
by Aisha Saeed