by Aisha Saeed
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars
In a small village in Pakistan, 12-year-old Amal spends her days going to school until her fourth little sister is born. Then she is forced to stay home and take care of the family while her father works and her mother suffers from postpartum depression. Her dreams dashed, she lashes out one day at the worst possible person: her village’s rich overlord, who relishes keeping the people indebted to him. To punish her and her family, he takes Amal as a servant to his home (“the estate”). It takes her a while to learn her place and to accept her new life, and eventually she comes to realize that Jawad is not only taking payment for her mistake, but adding on top of it her room and board, plus exorbitant interest designed to keep her there forever. And she’s far from the first person this has happened to – nearly everyone in her village is indebted to him. But she and the other servants find a way to fight back.
I loved Amal and saw so much of myself in her. I think it’s so important for kids in the United States to read contemporary stories like these in places we hear about mostly on the news and that can feel very far away in both time and space. Amal walks to the market and has a cell phone. She’s never used a computer before or heard of email, has barely ridden in a car, but her friendships and conflicts are like anybody else’s. The lessons in this story have such power to transcend borders and speak to us on scales small and large. The story doesn’t wrap up totally neatly, and its unfolding and denouement are unevenly paced, but it was satisfying and heartwarming. And I can neither confirm nor deny that it made me cry.