Year of Publication: 2018
Genre: Realistic Fiction (Middle Grade)
Format (How I Read It): Paperback
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.
Themes: The power of books/reading. Books provide an escape when we need it most. Education is worth fighting for. Womanhood/girl power. Bravery means doing what’s right even when it scares you. No matter how good and necessary, change comes with a price. One person can hold many dreams and see all of them come true.
“We don’t have to make headlines to help change the world for the better.”Aisha Saeed, “Amal Unbound”
Character Development: I loved Amal’s development throughout the story! She is such a strong, intelligent, and stubborn young woman. I love how she grows and learns how to balance loyalty to her family, expectations placed on her as a woman, and her dreams of going to school and being educated. I would have loved more development of some of the minor characters – at times some of the relationship development seemed kind of forced. However, I definitely felt a connection to all of the characters in the story.
Plot/Pacing: I thought the story was paced really well and the plot kept me engaged the whole time. It was interesting, unpredictable, and it felt like the stakes were high.
Writing Style: I thought the writing style was beautiful. The setting and culture were really well-developed, which helped to immerse me in the story. This is especially important for young readers who may not have any background knowledge about Pakistan.
“Bingeability”: Moderate-high. It’s not so fast-paced that it keeps you on the edge of your seat, but I kept reading chapter after chapter because I really wanted to know what happened!
Emotional Investment: High. Amal goes through a lot, and I really wanted to know that she and her family would be okay.
Windows and Mirrors: Pakistan. Pakistani girl. Lack of access to education for girls. Indentured servitude. Books as an escape.
Overall Thoughts: Amal Unbound is such a wonderful story about education and finding inner strength. The characters are wonderful and the setting is beautifully developed. If anything, the ending of the story may have been a little too convenient, but it conveys a powerful message (and I’m not one to complain about a happy ending!). The author’s note is also really powerful; it describes how the author was inspired by Malala Yousafzai’s story, and wanted to acknowledge the many girls around the world who are quietly fighting for their educations and aren’t necessarily recognized in the media. I would definitely be sure to share the author’s note with students when doing this as a read-aloud. Overall, Amal Unbound is an inspiring and empowering story with memorable and important themes.
Recommendation: This book would be great for so many different things in the classroom! It has many strong themes, so this would be a great one for teaching/introducing the concept of “theme.” It would be great as a read-aloud (with supports in place for building background knowledge on unfamiliar vocabulary and concepts). This book would also be great as a novel study for more advanced readers. Finally, it would be great for Women’s History Month, and would make a nice segue to studying other incredible women such as Malala Yousafzai. I would recommend this book for grades 4 and up.
Thank you for reading my review! Leave a comment letting me know if you’ve read this one or have any questions about it, and keep an eye out for my next review!