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A Pakistani girl wears a purple hijab and pink sweater. She holds an orange book and a pomegranate as she stands in a park. This is Amal.

Amal Unbound is an award-winning novel that tells the story of a young girl growing up in Pakistan who is forced into indentured servitude. Amal loves learning and yearns to be a teacher when she grows up, but her dreams are threatened when she has an unfortunate altercation with the wealthy landlord of her village.

Pakistani-American author Aisha Saeed founded the organization "We Need Diverse Books" and has written Amal Unbound to shine a light on the illegal, yet widespread, practice of indentured servitude and gender discrimination. It is a valuable resource for students and teachers to examine social injustices in Pakistan and around the world.

Student Activities for Amal Unbound

Essential Questions for Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

  1. Who are the main characters in Amal Unbound and what challenges do they face?
  2. What are some of the symbols and motifs present in the novel? How does the symbolism help you better understand the characters and their motivations?
  3. What are some of the themes present in the novel and what lessons does the author try to impart to the reader?
  4. What does it take to create change?

Amal Unbound Summary

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed is a story set in the modern day. It's about a young girl named Amal who lives with her family in a small village named Nabay Chak in Pakistan. Amal loves school and learning and dreams of becoming a teacher one day, but is forced to leave it all behind after a terrible twist of fate.

Amal already has three younger sisters when her mother gives birth to her fifth child: another baby girl. Amal is saddened and frustrated when her parents and many neighbors view it as unfortunate that the baby is not a boy. Amal has experience with gender discrimination as the boys' school in her village has more books and opportunities than the girls' school. Amal has big dreams for her future and loves school. She longs to become a teacher one day and often helps her teacher Miss Sadia with her lesson plans after school. However, after the baby arrives, Amal's father forces her to stay home to help care for her younger sisters and the housework. Amal's mother suffers from crippling postpartum depression and is unable to get out of bed. Amal loves her family but she is also devastated that she must interrupt her education. She wonders if her father would have forced her to be home if she were a boy.

Amal's troubles continue when one day while at the market, she is unwittingly caught in an altercation with the landlord of the village, Jawad Sahib. The Khan family has ruled her village for centuries and everyone is afraid to stand up to them. Amal is forced into indentured servitude as punishment for her perceived disrespect. She goes to live at Jawad Sahib's opulent estate and becomes a servant for his mother, Nasreen Baji. Amal is surprised to learn that Nasreen Baji grew up in a neighboring village and Amal even knows her family. Nasreen Baji is relatively kind to Amal, however, she is still unable to contact her family or leave the estate. Despite the fact that Jawad Sahib has a massive library with hundreds of books, Amal is forbidden to read them. Still, she sneaks them and also teaches a young servant Fatima how to read. Another servant, Nabila, takes her frustration at being replaced out on Amal and makes Amal's life very difficult. Eventually they come to an understanding that they are both in the same situation and need to band together. The life on the estate is difficult and Amal misses her family desperately. Amal has always known that Jawad Sahib is cruel and ruthless. However, she also discovers that he decimated a village that attempted to stand up to him and even had a man who disrespect him killed.

Khan Sahib, Jawad Sahib's father, has had a literacy center built in Amal's village. It is a publicity stunt for him to get more votes for re-election but the residents won't attend because they loathe the oppressive rule of the Khan family and do not want to partake in anything associated with them. Because there are no students, the literacy center risks being perceived as a failure. Jawad Sahib sends Amal there once a week to help with the ruse that it is a success. One day, while there, Amal confides in her teacher, Asif, that Jawad Sahib had a man murdered and she knows where he hid the body. The teacher agrees to pass the information onto his family who are lawyers. Because of Amal's bravery, Jawad Sahib and his father are arrested for the killing. Nasreen Baji closes up the estate and lets most of the servants go. Some are upset because they need the work. But, others, like Amal, are overjoyed to regain their freedom. Nasreen Baji admits "I thought about keeping you ... But you belong with your family. Your debt is forgiven." Amal is overcome with joy that she is finally allowed to return home.

In the end, Amal races home to be reunited with her family. She still fears what might happen in the future if Jawad Sahib is released. But she thinks, "Today I was free, and even if I didn't know what the future held, I knew I was going home. And right now, in this moment, this was enough."

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