Book Review: Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Amal Unbound By Aisha Saeed

Amal Unbound
By Aisha Saeed
Goodreads | Amazon | Audible
Series: no
Published: May 8th 2018
Rating: solid MG read
Times read: 1
Recommended by: I first saw this on twitter

I preordered Amal Unbound months ago because of the cover and because of the Pakistani setting. A few weeks ago I read Written in the Stars by the same author, which renewed my interest. I still hadn't read the blurb when I started reading it, so I went into it having no idea what sort of story to expect. A story of drama and intrigue, a rom-com, historical? It turns out it was none of the above.

Amal is a girl living in a small village in Pakistan who wishes to become a teacher. She is pulled out of school to take care of the family when her mother suffers from postpartum depression and ends up accidentally making an enemy of the powerful man who owns her village.

Amal Unbound is the sort of book that really highlights how vital #ownvoices writing is. I don't think that that this book could or should have been written by someone who is not part of the Pakistani community. Amal Unbound tackles classism and indentured servanthood in Pakistan, and it takes someone with both an intimate knowledge and love of Pakistan, and it's people to portray both of these realities accurately.

Or maybe I would do all these things. I knew now that one person could hold many different dreams and see them all come true.

This is a very short book.  Or maybe it felt very short because it was so readable. I read half of it last night and half of it today. As far as I know, Amal's age is never given. Somewhere between 12 and 17 is all I can say for sure. There is a clarity of writing and story that will make this book accessible to younger readers.

This is definitely a "plot" book. All of the stories energy goes into fleshing out what is happening rather than "world building" or characterization.  The writing is slightly spare, and there are no lush descriptions of Pakistan. There was a forward momentum to the book that discouraged lingering over words or characters. It was very much a book of the hear and now of the story. I find that I read books like this very quickly because I am so anxious to find out what happens. But because I am reading so fast, I don't always pay enough attention to the writing.

Amal is a strong and admirable character. I love how dedicated she was to learning and how determined she was to save herself. She was also a slightly blurred character, and I wonder if that has to do with the fact that she is also written as a representative character.  Amal has a specific history and struggle, but she is also emblematic of the many girls and woman around the world who are living this reality. I love that there is a message of hope and positive outcomes through action. 

Aisha Saeed is masterful at writing complex secondary characters. None of them are all good or all evil. Even characters who could almost be cartoonish in their villainy *cough Jawad Sahib *cough are portrayed as humans with human emotions and fallacies. 

Amal Unbound is highly recommended if you are interested in diverse books, contemporary books set in non-English speaking counties, or books that look at the lives of girls and woman in the developing world.

From Goodreads:

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.