Amal Unbound is one of those books I need to give to all the young people in my life. It is the type of really excellent middle grade writing that not only showcases a brave heroine, but also teaches them about the world.
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 has got to be one of my favorite middle grade books ever. Amal Unbound is poignant and heart warming. Amal touched my heart because I could see so much of myself in her. She has a fierce hunger for learning, to books, that is stifled like a covered flame. My heart broke for her to put myself in her shoes and imagine what would have happened. (On a related note, I always wonder what I would be doing if I hadn’t been adopted – in terms of similar to Amal and my desire to learn).
At the center of this story is not only a girl who struggles to fulfill her aspirations, but also a corrupt system. It details a system where we suffer consequences when we deny the wrong people even the smallest of things. In an instant our whole life changes, sometimes without us even knowing it. It’s a story about the way that power corrupts, that is results in us denying the humanity in others. Your heart breaks for her and with her because there is such terrible injustice in the world.
Amal Unbound is tenderly complex – it showcases a few other characters who I really appreciated. I really liked Amal’s mother and the way she struggles with post-partum depression. Additionally Amal meets an older woman named Nasreen, who I found really intriguing. Not only that, but the character of Nabila was really well done and examined the question if we can let go of both anger and our thirst for vengeance. Amal Unbound celebrates the power of hope, individual courage, and dreams. Check out Amal Unbound on Goodreads.
What’s your favorite middle grade novel?
If you like the sound of Amal Unbound I’d highly recommend The Night Diary