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.

 

Navigating Early

Navigating Early9780385742092_p0_v1_s260x420Navigating Early

Clare Vanderpool, Author

Delacourte Press, MG Fiction, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 10-14 (5-8 grades)

Themes:  Adventure, Journey, Appalachian Trail, Boarding Schools, Eccentricity, Loss

Synopsis:  When Jack Baker’s mother dies, his father, a WW II Navy captain, boxes up their lives in Kansas and moves them to Maine.  Jack is enrolled in the Morton Hill Academy and his father returns to his military job.  Jack struggles with making friends until he meets Early Auden, a strange but curious boy.  Jack and Early share two things in common — the loss of loved ones and distant fathers. Early is a gifted mathematical genius and is obsessed with the Pi =3.14. Early sees numbers in colors, images and creates a spellbinding story about Pi.  Early is certain that Pi is lost and the boys embark upon the journey of their life to find Pi on the Appalachian Trail.  Jack knows the constellations and navigates their trip as they encounter sea, pirates, timber rattle snakes, an old woman, lost souls, buried secrets, deep forests, caves and catacombs, and a Big Black bear.  Early’s gift of taking information and seeing what others miss keep the boys one-step ahead of danger.  The ending is unexpected but more than satisfying.

Why I like this book: This is one of the most complex books I’ve reviewed for middle graders.  Clare Vanderpool (Moon Over Manifest) has written a very emotional and compelling novel that tugs at her reader’s heartstrings and has them glued to their seats.  It is a story playing out within a story, and sometimes the lines of reality become blurred for both the boys when their hearts are involved.  This is a story about two boys searching for someone who is lost while trying to find themselves along the way.  Early would probably be diagnosed on the autism spectrum and a savant today, but the author doesn’t want to label him — so I haven’t labeled him in my tags.  Navigating Early is definitely a stand-out novel and I highly recommend it for middle graders and young adults.

Resources:  You may want to visit Clare Vanderpool at her website where readers can learn more about Navigating Early.  Teacher resources are also available.  Clare Vanderpool won the Newberry Award for her novel Moon Over Manifest.