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Infinite Country by Patricia Engel | Thoughts

   Published : 2021   ||    Format : print   ||    Location : Colombia ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆   What was it about the country that kept everyone hostage to its fantasy? The previous month, on its own soil, an American man went to his job at a plant and gunned down fourteen coworkers, and last spring alone there were four different school shootings. A nation at war with itself, yet people still spoke of it as some kind of paradise.. Thoughts : Infinite Country follows two characters - young Talia, who at the beginning of this book, escapes a girl’s reform school in North Colombia so that she can make her previously booked flight to the US. Before she can do that, she needs to travel many miles to reach her father and get her ticket to the rest of her family. As we follow Talia’s treacherous journey south, we learn about how she ended up in the reform school in the first place and why half her family resides in the US. Infinite Country tells the story of her family through the other protagonist, El

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed | Thoughts

 Published in: 2018   ||   Format: ebook   ||   Location: Pakistan

One line review: When 12-year old Amal is forced to slave at a landlord's house as punishment for speaking out at the landlord, it feels like her dreams have come to an end, but true to her nature, she finds hope even in this new place and many ways to keep her dreams alive. 

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We don’t have to make headlines to help change the world for the better.


As the eldest sibling in her family and also as a girl, Amal is always having to compromise. When her mother goes into labor and then later takes much longer to recover than Amal had hoped, it is Amal who stays home from school so that her little sisters' education does not suffer. Around this time, she learns that her parents are disappointed that the newest addition to their family is also a girl and not the boy child they have been praying for. All the little things build up, which is why, when one day she is returning from the market and gets hit by a car, she gets incensed that the occupant asks her to give him the pomegranate that she bought. She forever debates if her angry response was worth it because it turns out that the man was their local landlord who everyone in her village (including her father) owes something to and who is known for getting back at people who spoke or acted out against him.

And sure enough, one day, he asks her father to either pay his entire dues in full or send his daughter to work in his house for no pay. That is how, Amal soon finds herself in the landlord's mansion, waiting on his mother and helping with little errands here and there. Once at the mansion, she finds that one particular girl has taken a strong dislike to her, so much so that she is occasionally sabotaged and put in danger. But all is not as it seems at the house, and slowly, Amal finds that there are some opportunities that she can explore.

I've had Amal Unbound on my wishlist since it was released - it has received a lot of rave reviews. Also that cover is gorgeous and just calls to be held. Somehow, I came across this book in Overdrive one weekend and finished reading it in two sittings. In some ways it reminded me of Climbing the Stairs - there's tragedy and hope, there's suffering and success. Of course, it is toned down somewhat to suit the middle grade audience but that didn't take away anything from the book. Amal is the everyday middle-grader that you will rally behind. She has hopes and dreams just like everyone else. She puts her family's needs above hers but she also fights back when the unfairness of it catches up with her. 

I liked how the author made even the despicable characters appear as occasionally good and also that not everyone had a problem with working for the bad landlords. I did worry at some points that we may see some Stockholm syndrome in here but luckily it didn't go there. It would have made for a more complicated concept in a middle grade book, and this didn't feel the right place to introduce that, especially considering that villains needed to be seen as villains in places where they tend to rule and suppress the people who depended on them. Amal's situation is horrific in any world - no child should ever be a leverage in a business dealing gone wrong. It is easy to be angry at Amal's parents and yet, we all know this happens way too often. The book doesn't dwell so much in those philosophical arguments but it does demonstrate that such a life should not be acceptable. 

If there was one thing that bothered me, it is that the writing is more American than it is Asian. This is not a fault really but I tend to prefer some vernacular writing and spelling in any book to get an authentic vibes. The characters however felt genuine enough so I was able to get past that. If you haven't heard of this book, it will be a great addition to your list. While reading this book, I realized that my daughter and I had read and loved a picture book that this author had written - Bilal Cooks Dal - that one is also very authentic and beautiful.

Have you read this book? Is there a book you loved that this reminds you of?