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Amal Unbound
Cover of Amal Unbound
Amal Unbound
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"Saeed's timely and stirring middle-grade debut is a celebration of resistance and justice."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

The compelling story of a girl's fight to regain her life and dreams after being forced into indentured servitude.

Life is quiet and ordinary in Amal's Pakistani village, but she had 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.
"Saeed's timely and stirring middle-grade debut is a celebration of resistance and justice."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

The compelling story of a girl's fight to regain her life and dreams after being forced into indentured servitude.

Life is quiet and ordinary in Amal's Pakistani village, but she had 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.
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  • Available:
    1
  • Library copies:
    1
Levels-
  • ATOS:
  • Lexile:
    600
  • Interest Level:
  • Text Difficulty:
    2 - 3

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Excerpts-
  • From the book Chapter 1

    I watched from the window as the boys tumbled out of the brick schoolhouse across the field from us. Our class was running over. Again.
    Girls shifted in their seats and snuck glances at the clock above the chalkboard. My friend Hafsa sighed.
    "And finally, I have some bad news," Miss Sadia told us. She picked up a stack of papers from her desk. "I finished grading your math tests. Only five of you passed."
    The class let out a collective groan.
    "Now, now," she hushed us. "This just means we have more work to do. We'll go over it tomorrow and take another test next week."
    "Those questions were hard," my younger sister Seema whispered to me. We lined up by the chalkboard at the front of the class to get our tests. "I should've stayed with the younger class until fall."
    "Oh, come on. You know you probably passed," I whispered back. "When have you ever failed an exam?"
    Seema tugged at her sleeves as she walked up to Miss Sadia. It was only in the arms that you could see my old uniform was too big on her. Miss Sadia handed Seema the paper. As expected, Seema's worried expression shifted to a smile. Her steps were lighter before she slipped out of the classroom.
    "I'm sorry I can't help today," I told Miss Sadia once the room was empty. This was my favorite part of the day, when everyone left and it was just the two of us. The building felt like it had exhaled, expanding a little bit without all thirty-four of us, crammed two to a desk, filling up nearly every square inch of space. "My mother is in bed again."
    "Is the baby almost here?"
    "Yes, so my father said I have to come home and watch my sisters."
    "I'll miss your help, Amal, but he's right; family comes first."
    I knew helping family was what a good eldest daughter did, but this time after school with Miss Sadia wasn't just fun; it was important. I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up, and who better to learn from than the best teacher I ever had? I loved washing the chalkboards, sweeping the floor and hearing stories of her college days. I loved watching her go over her lessons and rework them based on what worked and what didn't the day before. I learned so much from watching her. How could my father not understand?
    "I could still use your help with the poetry unit next week," she told me. "Some of the students are grumbling about it. Think you could convince Hafsa to give it a chance? You know how she rallies the others to her side. She'll listen to you."
    "I don't think she minds reading the poems. Writing them makes her nervous."
    "You'd think everyone would be happy to write poetry! Shorter than an essay."
    "It's different. The great poets like Ghalib, Rumi, Iqbal—they had things to say."
    "And don't you have things to say?"
    "What would I write about?" I laughed. "My little sisters? My father's sugarcane fields and orange groves? I love reading poems, but there's nothing for me to really write about. Our life is boring."
    "That's not true! Write about what you see! Write about your dreams. Pakistan was founded by the dreams of poets. Aren't we of the same earth?"
    Miss Sadia's dramatic way of talking was one of the reasons I loved her, but I wasn't convinced. It's not that I wasn't proud of my family and our life. I was lucky to belong to one of the more prosperous families in our Punjabi village but it didn't change the fact that I lived in a village so tiny, it didn't even register as a dot on a map.
    But I promised I'd talk to Hafsa.
    This is what I now remember most about my last afternoon at...
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from March 12, 2018
    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.

  • Kirkus

    April 1, 2018
    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 center--funded, ironically enough, by the Khan family--where 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(2018) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • School Library Journal

    June 1, 2018

    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 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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Aisha Saeed
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