Discussion questions prepared by Kelly Carey
In Aisha Saeed’s middle grade novel Amal Unbound, readers are introduced to Amal, a young Pakistani girl whose life is changed when she is forced into indentured servitude. Saeed’s novel gently introduces Pakistani cultural by allowing readers to nibble on common threads of friendship and family while still exploring the struggle girls and women face to be valued, educated, and respected in a patriarchal society. By studying Saeed’s novel, writers can examine how to present a culture without allowing the characters that populate that society to be in awe of their own surrounding and circumstances, how to use setting, plot and pacing to add emotion and readability to a story, how to use secondary characters to present differing views, and how to use sentence and paragraph structure to amplify voice.
Use the discussion questions on your own or with a book group to investigate Amal Unbound. As you consider each question, take note of how your own manuscripts apply Saeed’s methods.
These discussion questions were inspired by the KidLit Book Club meeting at The Writers’ Loft. We’d love to have you join us. Check out the Loft calendar to find out about our next meeting!
- Amal’s life in Pakistan introduces a world that will look different to American children. However, Saeed makes Amal’s story universally relatable with themes of unfairness, jealousy, family and friendship. How did Saeed use these universal threads to make Amal’s culture relatable? How can you use common experiences to tell your own character’s unique story in a way that allows readers to identify with characters from different cultures?
- Pakistani culture is explored in Amal Unbound. How can an author introduce readers to a culture without allowing the characters in the story to be awed or surprised by their own lifestyle? For example, explore how Saeed portrayed the roles of men and women in Amal’s world and how she had her characters react to those roles.
- Amal Unbound is told from Amal’s POV. How does this perspective limit Saeed’s ability to describe Amal’s village, her home, and the settings she inhabits? How does it help? How do you balance inviting a reader to know an unusual setting with the character’s comfort with the setting? How does Saeed describe Amal’s settings—with emotion, or in some other way? How do you add emotional resonance to your settings when your story is told from the main character’s POV?
- Saeed’s book is strongly plotted. How does this invite readers to turn pages? And how can the pacing of the plot add emotion to the story? How can a rapidly developing plot hurt emotional depth? How did Saeed balance plot and pacing? For example, look at the pomegranate scene. Did this scene come too soon? Too late? At just the right time? And why or why not?
- Saeed smartly used the different servants in the Khan household to reflect the many faces of indentured servants. How did these differing views on life in the Khan household and the effects of the ending aid in presenting a fuller view of the culture? How do you use ancillary characters to present alternating or varying viewpoints? How can that enrich your story?
- Examine Saeed’s sentence and paragraph structure throughout the novel. How did her short sentences, short paragraphs and dialogue-rich text aid in the pacing, emotional resonance and readability of her story? Look at your manuscript and use three words to describe the writing structure you employ. Does that structure add to the story?
- Saeed’s book offers a look into life in Pakistan. In addition to learning and looking for ways to relate to cultural differences, young readers will also have to navigate unusual names. Saeed’s book has characters named Jawad, Nabila, and Amal. How do unusual but culturally accurate names enhance the reading and how can they be a hindrance? How do you make sure your characters are bigger than their names?
- Cell phones can hurt, help, or cause headaches for writers. How did Saeed manage Amal’s cell phone? How pivotal was removing Amal’s cell phone to the story? How naturally did Saeed navigate a way to separate Amal from her phone? How do you manage technology in your manuscript?
- Discuss the ending of Amal Unbound. Did Saeed find a satisfactory ending that will be kind to middle grade readers and still balance the harsh realities of indentured servitude? How was the ending morally complex? How did that enhance or detract from the novel?