A Pakistani village girl’s perseverence is tested in ‘Amal Unbound’


“Amal Unbound” By Aisha Saeed. Age 10 and older.

What to do when your world turns upside down?

“Amal Unbound: A Novel” by Aisha Saeed. (Photo: Marvin Joseph, The Washington Post)

As a 12-year-old girl living in a Pakistani village, Amal knows her options are limited. But even though she can’t easily find books to read, she still holds out hope that she can one day go to college and become a teacher.

Amal’s situation turns even more difficult after the first chapter of “Amal Unbound.” Her mother loses her energy and positive outlook after she gives birth to her fifth child. As the eldest daughter, Amal must stay home from school to help take care of her little sisters. Then the powerful local landlord demands that Amal become his servant, and she has to leave her family, village and school behind.

Amal narrates the book and emerges as a thoughtful and appealing character. Taken away from everything she has known, she has to figure out how to make herself useful: “My mother always said the best way to feel better was to do something, anything.” Amal also has to learn how to get along with the other servants, even with a girl who tries to get Amal in trouble.

The book’s author, Aisha Saeed, has said that the story was inspired by Malala Yousafzai, who was shot when she was 15 for her efforts to allow Pakistani girls to get an education. Amal’s journey is more quiet and less violent, but it is a compelling chronicle of a young person trying to do the right thing for herself and for others.

Amal wonders whether she is to blame for the bad situation in which she finds herself. She wonders how she will get back to her home and to her education. And she wonders if the tyrants who run the world she lives in can ever be removed and replaced. Can she figure out how to take the right actions?


Alan Gratz’s “Refugee” (ages 9 to 12), set in three time periods, follows three young people whose lives have changed dramatically.

Told in graphic-novel format, Cece Bell’s autobiographical “El Deafo” (ages 8 to 12) offers another super heroine who has to face serious challenges.



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