Aisha Saeed (Juvenile Fiction)
Twelve-year-old Amal belongs to one of the more prosperous families in her Punjabi village in Pakistan and dreams of becoming a teacher. She vividly remembers that particular afternoon: the smell of the chalkboard, the students chattering outside the door, and talking poetry with her teacher, Miss Sadia. Little did she know that that would be her last day at school. While at the market, Amal encounters and challenges the son of the village’s powerful landlord—a slight that would have unimaginable consequences. She is forced to pay off her family’s debt by working on the Khan estate where she begins to realize the full extent of the family’s vast wealth and power. Amal must summon all her strength and courage to change the status quo because if everyone decided that nothing could ever change, then nothing ever would.
Amal Unbound is a captivating read and its short chapters allow readers to absorb the important messages and lessons that fill each page. The societal and cultural limitations that Amal brings to light accurately reflect her life and the obstacles that she faces. The idea of “fairness” is a major theme throughout the book and she constantly recalls her father’s words of life’s unfairness whenever she is at a crossroads. This is a hard thing to reconcile given the number of things totally out of her control: her sex (Maybe then I would not have learned that they thought being a girl was such a bad thing.), her birth order (Why did this random chance [being the eldest] have to dictate so much of my destiny?), and political power (How many lives had this man upended? Why did no one stop him?).
Saeed delivers a story about an ordinary girl who does an extraordinary thing…she has the audacity to speak out for change. Amal quickly realizes that life comes down to a series of choices. Choices that she doesn’t want to make or feels that she lacks the courage to do so. But her teacher at the literacy center reminds her, “Making choices even when they scare you because you know it’s the right thing to do—that’s bravery.”
In her Author’s Note, Saeed shares the story of Malala Yousafzai who was shot at point-blank range by the Taliban for advocating education for girls. Her life was also a series of choices, and her courageous advocacy led her to become the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala once said, “We were scared, but our fear was not as strong as our courage.” Amal was also scared, but sacrificed her own safety to bring about justice. In the end, she proved just how powerful a servant girl could be once she freed herself from the ties that bound her.
* Book cover image attributed to: www.abebooks.com
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