Omar Rising by Aisha Saeed

Omar Rising

Aisha Saeed, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, Feb 1, 2022

Suitable for ages: 10-14

Themes: Pakistan, Family Life, Education, Boarding school, Dreams, Courage, Social Injustice

Synopsis:

In this gripping companion to New York Times bestseller Amal Unbound, Amal’s lifelong friend Omar shows the world that he’s not going to accept being treated like a second-class citizen at an elite boarding school.

When Omar is chosen for a scholarship to the prestigious Ghalib Academy Boarding School, it is a game changer. It  will give him, the son of a servant, a once-in-a-lifetime an opportunity for a better future — and his whole village is cheering him on.

Omar can’t wait to dive into his classes, play soccer, and sign up for astronomy club — but those hopes are dashed when he learns first-year scholarship students can’t join clubs or teams. Instead, they must earn their keep doing menial chores. Even worse, it turns out the school deliberately “weeds out” scholarship kids by requiring them to get grades that are nearly impossible — better than kids who can pay tuition — making it almost impossible for scholarship students to graduate.

While Omar is devastated to find such odds stacked against him, the injustice of it all motivates him to try to do something else that seems impossible: change a rigged system. He and the other scholarship students begin to study and work together, forming their own study group and “family.” There is power in numbers. 

Why I like Omar Rising:

Fans of Aisha Saeed’s Amal Unbound, will eagerly devour Omar Rising, a courageous and hopeful story about believing in yourself and finding courage to change an unfair educational system. Saeed’s rich and bold storytelling, coupled with a complex look at the social injustices between classes, makes this story an uplifting contemporary tale for middle grade readers. And look at that beautiful cover!

The all-Pakistani cast of characters is authentic. Omar has his turn in the spotlight when he’s accepted to Ghalib Academy, Omar has the support and pride of his village cheering him — a lot of pressure for this serious and diligent and “stubbornly optimistic” 12-year-old.  Omar’s is pleased that his Ghalib roommate is fellow scholarship student, Kareem. He also makes friends with Naveed, a star scholarship student ready to graduate, who advises the boys throughout the year. The threesome will come to depend upon each other if they are going to survive.  When other students learn about the unfair treatment of the scholarship students, they want to help. With the support of all the students, they may have a chance to make real change for themselves and others. 

The chapters are short, with 4-5 pages. With such a compelling and suspenseful plot, it is a real page-turner. This book belongs in every school, and home library. It is a thought-provoking story that will lead to some very interesting discussions among readers. It’s important that readers learn about the educational barriers other kids face globally.

Aisha Saeed is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Amal Unbound, also and Indie Next Pick and a Global Read Aloud selection, and Yes No Maybe So (co-authored with Becky Albertalli). Her other highly acclaimed books include Written in the Stars, and the picture book Bilal Cooks Daal. As one of the founding members of the much-talked-about #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, she is helping change the conversation about diverse books. Aisha lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and sons. Visit Aisha at her website

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

 

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Amal Unbound

Aisha Saeed, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, May 8, 2018

Suitable for ages: 10-13

Themes: Indentured servants, Pakistan, Family Life, Dreams, Courage

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Amal’s dream of becoming a teacher one day is dashed in an instant when she accidentally insults a member of her Pakistani village’s ruling family. As punishment for her behavior, she is forced to leave her heartbroken family behind and go work at their grand estate, surrounded by a high brick wall and gate guards.

Amal is distraught but has faced setbacks before. So  she summons her courage and begins navigating the complex rules of life as a servant, with all its attendant jealousies and pecking-order woes. Most troubling is Amal’s increasing awareness of the deadly measures the Khan family will go to in order to stay in control. It’s clear that their hold over her village will never loosen as long as everyone is too afraid to challenge them — so if Amal is to have any chance of ensuring her loved ones’ safety and winning back her freedom, she must find a way to work with the other servants to make it happen.

Why I like this book:

Fans of Aisha Saeed’s Written in the Stars, will eagerly devour Amal Unbound, a heartbreaking and hopeful story about believing in yourself and finding courage in the midst of danger. Saeed’s bold and skillfully penned novel creates an exceptional reading experience that will  touch your soul.

The setting is culturally rich as it is about Pakistani traditions, village schools, small villages, shopping in local markets, food preparations, the landscape, neighbors knowing everyone’s business, and the pressure on mothers to birth baby boys.

The first-person narrative with Amal offers greater depth into her character. Amal is a strong, determined and clever protagonist who loves school and dreams of going to the university and becoming a teacher one day. When her mother suffers postpartum depression after the birth of a fifth daughter, her father makes Amal quit school to care for her siblings. Not one to give up, she manages to find a creative way to keep up with her school work. When Amal stands up to the wealthy Kahn son, Jawad Sahib, at the market and refuses to give him her purchases, her world begins to crumble. As a punishment, he makes her a servant at the Khan family home.  The characters are well-developed, memorable and despicable. They will stay with you after you finish.

The plot is suspenseful and dangerous at times. The author shows much of the action, which is more powerful than words. Even though Amal is living in luxury serving the kind mother of the brutal landlord, it will always be a prison for Amal. But Amal is smart and resourceful and she uses it to her advantage.  Amal Unbound is a page-turner and I could not put it down. The author manages to surprise me with the unexpected ending. Readers will be cheering.

It is so hard to imagine that indentured servitude is a problem that still exists for millions of people globally. It takes many forms and occurs in the United States. It is a corrupt and dangerous business. It is Saeed’s hope that Amal’s story will shine a light on the brave girls enduring servitude.

Favorite Quote:

“I balanced the tray in my hands and walked to the kitchen. I tried to pretend I didn’t care what the woman said, but I did.  I doubted I would every get used to being discussed like cattle at the market.” Page 109

Aisha Saeed is the author of Written in the Stars. As a Pakistani American and one of the founding members of the much-talked-about We Need Diverse Books Campaign, she is helping to change the conversation about diverse books. Visit her at her website.

Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

Written in the Stars

Written in the Stars9780399171703_p0_v2_s192x300Written in the Stars

Aisha Saeed, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction,  Mar. 24, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 14-17

Themes: Forced Marriages, Pakistani-American teen, Diversity,

Synopsis: Naila is a responsible and trustworthy daughter to her immigrant Pakistani parents. Steeped in cultural tradition, her parents allow her to attend a Florida high school, study subjects she likes, wear her hair how she wishes, dress like the other students and choose her career path in college. The only thing she is not allowed to do is date boys or choose a husband. Naila falls in love with Sajf, a Pakistani-American boy, during her senior year. She keeps her secret and meets Saif for lunch everyday. When Naila disobeys her parents and sneaks to the senior prom with Saif, her parents are outraged at her betrayal of trust and humiliated by their close-knit community. In attempt to help Naila understand her heritage, they pull her out of school, travel to Pakistan to visit relatives. Naila enjoys meeting so many family members and bonding with her cousin, Selma. Her vacation turns into a nightmare when her parents betray her, force her into an arranged marriage with Amin, and then leave Pakistan. She is alone living with a strange family, who see her as their ticket to America. Is this Naila’s destiny or is there any hope for escape?

What I love about Written in the Stars:

  • Aisha Saeed has masterfully written a bold, heart wrenching and complex cross-cultural novel that will be an eye-opener for many young readers. It is also beautiful love story between two Pakistani-American teens.
  • The setting is culturally rich for teens reading Written in the Stars. It is about Pakistani traditions, extended families living together, food preparations, small villages, the landscape, neighbors knowing everyone’s business, and shopping in local markets.
  • The first-person narrative with Naila offers greater depth into her character. Naila is a strong and determined protagonist. Her anger and pain are palpable, as is her desire to escape. All of the characters are well-developed, memorable and stay with you after you finish. The plot is suspenseful and brutal at times. The author shows much of the action, which is more powerful than words. The reader experiences Naila’s prison. Written in the Stars is a page-turner and I could not put it down. The ending is unexpected.
  • The author shares that although her own marriage was arranged by her parents, she wrote the book to shed light on the many arranged forced marriages.  I have never read anything like this powerful book, and I mean that as a compliment. Saeed sheds so much light on the problem of forced marriages in America and around the world. Although her characters are American-Pakistani, Saeed points out that “the issue is not limited to one particular culture or religion.”

Resources: There is a lovely Author’s Note at the end, along with resources for individuals needing advice, and a glossary. Visit Aisha Saeed at her website.

Aisha Saeed is a Pakistani American writer, teacher and attorney. Written in the Stars is her debut novel. She is on of the founding members of the We Need Diverse Books Campaign.