Reviews for Amal Unbound

by Aisha Saeed

School Library Journal
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Gr 5-8-Amal is an inquisitive young girl living with her family in a Punjabi village in rural Pakistan. Inspired by her favorite teacher, Amal dreams of becoming an educator. However, the tween has to stay home to run the household while her mother recovers from postpartum depression. Her ambitions fade away completely, though, after an accident involving the car of the wealthy Jawad Sahib, and she becomes a servant in Sahib's house to pay off her family's debts. Amal discovers the strength to overcome her harrowing circumstances, while making new friends and finding comfort in books and learning. What follows is Amal's social awakening. She finds the courage to fight for justice on behalf of herself and her community. Saeed's middle grade debut shares an empowering message about the importance of family, literacy, and cultural ties. The rich storytelling, nuanced characterization of an all-Pakistani cast, complex and layered look at the socioeconomics of the region, and richly described setting make this ultimately hopeful contemporary tale a good alternative to Gloria Whelan's Homeless Bird and Patricia McCormick's Sold. VERDICT A strong choice for all middle grade shelves, especially where readers are seeking stories about young girls in non-Western countries overcoming adversity.-Shelley Diaz, School Library Journal Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Publishers Weekly
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Saeed (Written in the Stars) infuses this true-to-life story of unjust power dynamics in a poor Pakistani village with a palpable sense of dread regarding the fate of the inquisitive, industrious, poetry-loving titular character. Twelve-year-old Amal is troubled by her parents' obvious distress that her newborn sibling is yet another girl, and she is vexed that her responsibilities as eldest daughter require her to run the household while her mother is bedridden. Amal unleashes her frustration on the wrong person when she talks back to Jawad Sahib, the wealthy landowner, who demands she work off her debt for the insult . Amal's experience navigating an unfamiliar social hierarchy in the landlord's lavish estate exposes her to pervasive gender inequities and unfair labor practices, like being charged for room and board but receiving no pay. While her growing indebtedness makes it unlikely she will ever leave, Amal's ability to read grants her a dangerous opportunity to expose the landlord's extensive corruption, if she dares. Saeed's eloquent, suspenseful, eye-opening tale offers a window into the contemporary practice of indentured servitude and makes a compelling case for the power of girls' education to transform systemic injustice. Ages 10-up. Agent: Taylor Martindale Kean, Full Circle Literary. (May) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A Pakistani girl's dreams of an education dissolve when she is forced into indentured servitude.Bookish Amal, who lives in a small village in Punjab, Pakistan, dreams of becoming a teacher and a poet. When she inadvertently insults Jawad, the son of her village's wealthy and influential, but corrupt, landlord, Khan Sahib, she is forced into indentured servitude with his family. Jawad assures Amal's father that she will be "treated like all my servants, no better, no worse" and promises him that he will "let her visit twice a year like the others." Once in her enslaver's home, Amal is subject to Jawad's taunts, which are somewhat mitigated by the kind words of his mother, Nasreen Baji, whose servant she becomes. Amal keeps her spirits up by reading poetry books that she surreptitiously sneaks from the estate library and teaching the other servant girls how to read and write. Amal ultimately finds a friend in the village's literacy centerfunded, ironically enough, by the Khan familywhere she befriends the U.S.-educated teacher, Asif, and learns that the powerful aren't invincible. Amal narrates, her passion for learning, love for her family, and despair at her circumstance evoked with sympathy and clarity, as is the setting.Inspired by Malala Yousafzai and countless unknown girls like her, Saeed's timely and stirring middle-grade debut is a celebration of resistance and justice. (Fiction. 10-14) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Pakistani Amal loves going to school and looks forward to becoming a teacher in the future. She only becomes aware of nuances in gender roles and the lack of opportunities afforded to girls after her father tells her that she must take care of the household while her mother recovers from childbirth. Amal hopes to continue her schooling once her mother is well, but that goal drifts further away when an accidental encounter lands her in a humongous heap of trouble. In order to spare her family from incurring further wrath and unfair consequences, Amal becomes an indentured servant to the odious Khan family. Readers will find that a little perseverance and a heart filled with hope can eventually surmount a harsh reality. Saeed fills her prose with lush descriptions of Pakistani life, while still managing to connect with readers whose surroundings and experiences will be starkly different. Hand to any reader who struggles with definitive gender roles, norms, and expectations held in place by societal structures.--Bratt, Jessica Anne Copyright 2018 Booklist


School Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Gr 5-8-Amal doesn't think she is brave. She's just a girl in a Pakistani village who loves to read and teach reading. As a 12-year-old girl, she is expected to stop focusing on her education and start learning her role as a woman in her village. Sulking after a trip to the market, she is justifiably rude to a man who almost ran her over. Unbeknownst to Amal, this was Jawad Sahib, son to Khan Sahib, ruler of her village. To repay her "debt," her father allows her to become a servant to the Khans for an undetermined amount of time. As a servant, Amal begins to learn secrets of the Khan family; secrets that could possibly be her chance at freedom. Priya Ayyar is a natural narrator for the voice of Amal. Listeners can feel Amal's struggle with her expected gender role and new life of servitude. The author's note includes a brief shout-out to Malala Yousafzai. VERDICT An engaging and heartfelt listen. Perfect for book discussions and classrooms.-Amanda Schiavulli, Liverpool Public Library, NY Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Horn Book
(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

When a car grazes Pakistani girl Amal, she stands up to the rude stranger who emerges from it. The man is Jawad Sahib, son of the town's villainous landlord, who forces Amal into indentured servitude to pay back family debts. Short chapters and unadorned prose make this heartwrenching yet hopeful contemporary story accessible and direct, with Amal's emotions and strength anchoring the narrative as she uncovers the Sahibs' criminal activity. (c) Copyright 2019. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Publishers Weekly
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Ayyar gives an uneven performance of Saeed's middle grade novel about the underworld of indentured servitude in contemporary Pakistan. When 12-year-old Amal publicly defies the scion of the powerful Khan family, the Khans call in her father's debt and force Amal to work as their servant. While in their household, she discovers evidence that the Khans have engaged in illegal activities and forges alliances with other servants in the household to expose them. Ayyar's performance is most captivating when she is narrating Amal's inner monologue; her treble voice is quite believable as that of a child maturing into a woman. The problem is that many of the characters-whether they are adults or children, male or female-sound this way, too. When Amal's parents have a heated discussion about Amal's future, for example, it's impossible to tell which of them is speaking unless the dialogue makes that clear; later in the book, the Khans' chauffeur and housekeeper sound indistinguishable from each other and from the local teacher who helps to broaden Amal's world. The lack of differentiation is a major drawback and makes this production more confusing than it needs to be. Ages 10-up. A Penguin/Paulsen hardcover. (May) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.