cover image Amal Unbound

Amal Unbound

Aisha Saeed, read by Priya Ayyar. Books on Tape, unabridged, 4 CDs, 4.5 hrs., $38 ISBN 978-0-525-63210-8

Ayyar gives an uneven performance of Saeed’s middle grade novel about the underworld of indentured servitude in contemporary Pakistan. When 12-year-old Amal publicly defies the scion of the powerful Khan family, the Khans call in her father’s debt and force Amal to work as their servant. While in their household, she discovers evidence that the Khans have engaged in illegal activities and forges alliances with other servants in the household to expose them. Ayyar’s performance is most captivating when she is narrating Amal’s inner monologue; her treble voice is quite believable as that of a child maturing into a woman. The problem is that many of the characters—whether they are adults or children, male or female—sound this way, too. When Amal’s parents have a heated discussion about Amal’s future, for example, it’s impossible to tell which of them is speaking unless the dialogue makes that clear; later in the book, the Khans’ chauffeur and housekeeper sound indistinguishable from each other and from the local teacher who helps to broaden Amal’s world. The lack of differentiation is a major drawback and makes this production more confusing than it needs to be. Ages 10–up.[em] A Penguin/Paulsen hardcover. (May) [/em]