Amal Unbound

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
Amal Unbound Book Poster Image
Compelling story of girl in Pakistan forced to be a servant.

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Kids say

age 10+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

While Amal Unbound gives readers the expected glimpses of life in Pakistan -- a bazaar with shops selling saris, spices, and ruby encrusted bangles and a wedding held in a carpeted tent where the women paint decorative designs on their hands with henna -- it has serious lessons to be learned. That there are places where girls are valued less than boys, that even in the 21st century people can still be forced into indentured servitude, and that education has the power to change the role of girls and women in society. 

Positive Messages

Never give up hope.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Amal is passionate about her studies and determined to go onto college and become a teacher. Yet even as she sees that dream being taken away, she’s equally as determined to do the best job she can in whatever situation she finds herself -- leaving school to help her mother with the younger children or working as a servant at the Khan estate. And when the time is right, she courageously steps up to help expose a corrupt and powerful man who’s feared by everyone she knows.

Violence

Everyone in Amal’s village knows what happened when people in a local village refused to back down in the face of threats from their landlord -- he burned the village to the ground. Two men are found murdered.

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Aisha Saeed’s Amal Unbound is the story of a feisty poetry loving 12-year-old girl who lives in rural Pakistan with her family. When her mother becomes depressed after giving birth to a daughter instead of a son, Amal’s father decides she should leave school to care for her younger sisters and the new baby. This is a hard blow for Amal, but she never gives up on her plans to go onto college and become a teacher. Then, in an instant, it looks like her dreams for her future are truly over. Amal dares to talk back to the son of a powerful local landlord and he retaliates by calling in the debt her father owes his family. When her father can't raise the money, Amal is sent to work as a servant in his home until the debt can be repaid. Told simply but powerfully in Amal’s voice, the story puts a relatable face on the practice of indentured servitude, the often devalued place girls have in many cultures, and the power of education to change their lives.

User Reviews

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Kid, 11 years old August 4, 2018

ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS EVER!

This is a reallly good book. We read it in humanities class, and it is really awesome. I own a copy of it, and it is awesome! I totally recommend it! :D

What's the story?

As Amal Unbound begins, life for 12-year-old Amal is a happy one. She lives with her parents and three younger sisters on a farm in rural Pakistan, is a star student, and has plans to become a teacher. But when her mother gives birth to a fifth daughter, her life changes forever. Even though Amal’s father loves his daughters, in their world it’s boys who are of real value to a family. Her mother becomes so depressed after failing to provide a son, that her father decides Amal must stay home from school to care for the family until her mother is well. It’s only for a little while, she hopes, and then she’ll be able to return to school. That hope seems gone forever when she talks back to Jawad Khan, the son of a powerful local landlord. He’s so angry he demands that Amal’s father repay the money he owes the Khan family. When her father can’t raise the money, Jawad tells him that Amal must work as an indentured servant in his home until the debt can be repaid. Amal is soon sent to live at the Khan’s luxurious estate and begins a new life as his mother’s personal maid. It’s not long before she realizes that indentured servants can rarely work off their debts and she may never be able to return to her family. But Amal is smart, resourceful, and courageous, and when she discovers what’s really going on in the Khan family, she finds a way to expose the truth.

 

Is it any good?

A suspenseful, sometimes heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting story that shines a bright light on indentured servitude and the role of education in empowering girls. While simply told, Amal Unbound has enough unexpected twists and turns -- Amal lives in luxurious surroundings at the Khan estate and is treated kindly by the family matriarch rather than in the terrible conditions readers might expect -- that even older kids will be captivated by the story.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the girls in Amal Unbound are not as valued as the boys.  Can you think of ways in which girls in your school or community are treated differently than boys?

  • Amal sacrificed all her dreams to help her family. What would you have done in her situation? Would you have thought about running away?

  • Why do you think girls like Amal put such a high value on getting an education? Do you think students in the United States sometimes take going to school for granted?

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