I recently enjoyed this novel with its wonderful Pakistani setting and a heroine full of moxie whose heart is set on something most of your children take for granted — an education.
Amal Unbound, written by Aisha Saeed
published in 2018 by Nancy Paulsen Books
At age twelve, Amal’s life in her traditional Pakistani village is disrupted by ordinary-level annoyances – the electricity cutting out, her small sisters’ arguing — as well as larger, more unsettling concerns.
Just now her mother has slid into lethargy following the birth of another baby girl. Amal worries about her even as she recoils from painful comments overheard about the disappointment of daughters, when sons are so esteemed. Worse still, due to her mother’s crippling despondency, Amal’s father demands her to leave school in order to help run the household, jeopardizing her dreams of college and a teaching profession.
But the starkest changes come when Amal accidentally insults the overlord of her village. He’s a cruel man, and exacts payment for this by ordering Amal to his estate as an indentured servant. Amal’s break with her former life — schooling, family, future — is all-encompassing and overwhelming.
Yet as Amal exerts her resolve and gains the knowledge necessary to survive in this new household, she uncovers dark secrets about the ruling family, then finds the courage to use these truths to obtain freedom for herself and others.
Aisha Saeed paints a vivid picture of modern-day Pakistan full of rich details that transport us into this setting. She illuminates the fight for girls’ education, the contemporary practice of indentured servitude, as well as perceptively exploring economic disparity, injustice, and prejudice, gently nudging us to examine our own blind spots.
Despite the weightiness of these issues, Amal’s story is one of spirit and hope. It’s absorbing, thought-provoking, an excellent choice for a girls’ book club or a mom-and-daughter book club. I recommend it for ages 10 and up.