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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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  • From the cover 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...
About the Author-
  • AISHA SAEED also wrote Written in the Stars, and is a Pakistani-American writer, teacher, and attorney. She has been featured on MTV, the Huffington Post, NBC and the BBC, and her writings have appeared in publications including the journal ALAN and the Orlando Sentinel. As one of the founding members of the much talked about We Need Diverse Books Campaign, she is helping change the conversation about diverse books. Aisha lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and sons.
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.

  • AudioFile Magazine Narrator Priya Ayyar beautifully conveys this bittersweet story set in Pakistan, which was inspired by Malala Yousafzai and millions of girls like her. Amal accidently collides with the son of her village's ruling family. After she verbally challenges him, she's forced to live with his family as a servant. Vibrant descriptions of the village, school, and Amal's friends take the listener into the center of her life. Ayyar's narration captures Amal grief over losing her family, friends, and education--she planned to become a teacher. It's moving and comforting to hear her settle into her new "home," where she makes friends who help her and whom she also helps. Listeners of all ages will enjoy this coming-of-age story, which is sadly realistic but hopeful. S.G.B. � AudioFile 2018, Portland, Maine
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Aisha Saeed
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