Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
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.
This book was so good! I had to make myself put it down last night, but it was hard to do.
Amal is 12 years old and lives with her family. Her mother is pregnant and trying to have a boy, but for now, Amal is the oldest of all girls in the family. She loves going to school and wants to be a teacher. Her goal is so important to her and she’s been planning her future with her best friend.
One of Amal’s best friends is a boy, Omar. His mother works for Amal’s family. Because he’s a boy, Amal’s mom is encouraging her to spend less time with him. This part definitely showed the cultural difference from the US early on in the book.
“Amal, I know he’s your friend, but you’re not a little girl anymore,” my mother had lectured me a few months ago when I turned twelve. “You can’t spend so much time with him.”
The book touches a bit on postportum depression. Amal thinks it’s because the new baby was a boy and the disappointment of everyone about it is obvious.
“Of course I had known they wanted a son. I heard the conversations of our neighbors and the whispers in our own house. But staring at my parents’ expressions right now, I saw they didn’t look disappointed; they looked crushed.”
Because of her mother’s depression, Amal is forced to stay home from school and take care of the house and younger kids. She is the oldest and it’s expected of her. This is devastating for Amal. Not only did she want to be a teacher, but learning new things was everything to her.
“In a week or so, we can see how things are going,” my father continued. “But in any case, remember, you have already learned a lot. More than many of the neighborhood girls. You can read and write. What more do you need to know?”
I always thought my parents knew me well. So how could he ask me that?
What more did I need to know?
The whole world, Abu, the whole world.
Amal goes to the market and is lightly hit by a car. She didn’t realize who was in the car when the man got out. He wanted to take her pomegranate and Amal refused. She stood up for herself and talked back. This was the worst thing she could have done. Jawad Sahib’s family owned everything.
Jawad Sahib shows up at Amal’s and everyone finds out that Amal’s dad owes him a debt. He’s come to collect and since they can’t pay, he wants Amal to be a servant. She is to live in his home and do as she’s told. Her father is told that he can have her back when the debt is paid.
Amal’s whole life changes. She has to learn how to obey without question. She realizes how differently servants are treated, but she also finds out that being rich doesn’t mean you are free either. She does meet other servants that she gets along with, but she wants nothing more than to go home and back to school.
“There was a clear diving line here, and I had to understand where I stood. We could prepare the platters and wash the porcelain plates and glasses, but we could not eat from them.”
Amal finds out some information about the family she is staying with and she has to decide what to do about it.
“You always have a choice. Making choices even when they scare you because you know it’s the right thing to do-that’s bravery.”
I can’t even explain why I loved this book so much, but I just wanted to keep reading Amal’s story. I enjoyed the writing and all of the traditions that were different than my own.
Warnings for depression, servitude, and a beating (being hit).
I gave this book 5 stars and highly recommend it. I also recommend reading the author’s note at the end of the book. It was really good, too.
Have you read Amal Unbound yet? What did you think?