Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Life holds much promise for 12 year-old Amal. Living in a small Punjabi village in Pakistan, she dreams of going to college with her best friend Hafsa and becoming a teacher. Amal is the eldest of four daughters, and now that her mother is pregnant, everyone is hoping this baby will be the longed-for son. But when the new baby turns out to be another girl, and her mother goes into a deep depression because of it, Amal is taken out of school to help care for the house and her sisters.

Disappointed, Amal does her best until one day at the market she insults Jawad Sahib, son of the village's powerful landlord, Khan Sahib. Jawad is known by everyone as a cruel and vindictive man, a money lender who makes sure no debt can ever be paid off. Already owing the Khan's money, Amal's father tells her life is unfair, and now, there will be a price to pay for her insult, even though the circumstances surrounding it was not her fault. The price is high - Jawad Sahib demands that Amal work in the Khan estate as a servant, allowed to visit her parents only twice a year. Her father tells her that she will only be there for a month or two, just until he gets enough money to get her back.

Luckily for Amal, she is put to work taking care of Jawad's mother, Nasreen Baji, a woman much kinder than her son. As time goes by, it becomes clear to Amal that she will be working at the Khan estate for much longer than her father said. He is being charged room and board for her, guaranteeing his debt can never be paid back. Her saving grace is the large library that no one seems to use. Amal happily begins sneaking books back to her room to read and when word gets out that she can read and write, she begins to teach one of the other servants. 

Meanwhile, Khan Sabib, Nasreem Baji's husband, and Jawad's father is running for political office and never home. To further his chances of being elected, he had a literacy center built in Amal's village. After it opens, no one will go there, so Amal is sent once a week for show. Since Amal can already read and write, the teacher begins teaching her how computers work. Knowledge is power and eventually Amal learns enough about what the Khan family is up to to set things in motion that could cause their downfall.

Amal Unbound is narrated in the first person by Amal, whose observations and direct language really help the reader understand her circumstances as an indentured servant and how easily it happened, a situation many young readers may not be aware of. Understanding that Amal lives in a society where girls still tend to be marginalized, and obedience is demanded by men, in this novel particularly by her father and Jawad Sahib, makes Amal's story that much more important. 

But so does the fact that Amal refuses to simply accept her fate, risking punishment for borrowing books from the Khan's library so that she doesn't fall behind is testament to how strong her dreams of college and becoming a teacher are.

Amal Unbound is an incredibly readable coming-of-age book, and Amal a strong, relatable, and sympathetic character, who will no doubt inspire young readers. I found that, ironically, it is in the acceptance of her circumstances, the knowledge that she will never go back to her family again, and will probably live out her days as a servant to the Khan family that proves just how much strength Amal has and it becomes a turning pointing for her, one that is fed by hope.

Do read the Author's Note at the back of the book for more information about the issue of indentured servitude and how wide-spread it really is.

Amal Unbound will be available on May 8, 2018 and I can't recommend it highly enough.

This book is recommend for readers age 10+
This was an ARC received from the publisher.

1 comment:

  1. Such a compelling novel. I think it is important for stories like Amal's need to be shared in classrooms, so kids gain a better understanding of how girl's and women are marginalized in some cultures globally. Amal is a strong and determined character. Thanks for the heads up about this story!


Imagination Designs