Omar knows his scholarship to Ghalib Academy Boarding School is a game changer, providing him - the son of a servant - with an opportunity to improve his station in life. He can't wait to experience all the school has to offer, especially science club and hopefully the soccer team; but when he arrives, his hopes are dashed. First-year scholarship students aren't allowed to join clubs or teams - and not only that, they have to earn their keep doing menial chores. At first Omar is dejected - but then he gets angry when he learns something even worse - the school deliberately "weeds out" kids like him by requiring them to get significantly higher grades than kids who can pay tuition, making it nearly impossible for scholarship students to graduate. It's a good thing that in his favorite class, he’s learned the importance of being stubbornly optimistic. So with the help of his tightknit new group of friends - and with the threat of expulsion looming over him - he sets out to do what seems impossible: change a rigged system.
I couldn't resist picking up this title after reading Amal Unbound in 2020. While it's not a direct sequel, it does feel sort of like a companion novel. I received this book for review; however, all thoughts are my own.
Omar Rising follows the character Omar, a close friend of Amal's, after he gets into a prestigious boys school. While he's excited to attend the school, Omar is nervous about leaving behind his family and friends. After after arriving at the school and taking in all of it's wonder amenities, Omar begins to realize that as a scholarship he is treated differently than the rest of the students. He's held to a different standard in terms of academic success, he's required to do service hours, and he's forbidden from participating in any extra-curricular activities. Omar is unable to manage all of these expectations and eventually learns that it's a method to weeding out scholarship students. Refusing to settle for this treatment, Omar attempts to figure out a way to push back against the system.
Like with Amal, I admire the courage of Omar. It's extremely difficult to leave behind family and friends in attempt to make a better life only to find the same classist ideals in the new environment. There are moments when he is defeated, but there are more moments when he works with his friends to try to change a system that has prevented scholarship students from being successful. Saeed makes sure that Omar has a great support system in friends that were at the school and friends that were back home like Amal. This is a story that a lot of middle grade students will connect too. With accessible writing and great storytelling, it's story that you shouldn't miss.
Re-entering the world of Amal in 'Amal Unbound', this companion book about Amal's best friend Omar paints a vivid picture of his life as a scholar at the prestigious Ghalib Academy for Boys. When the first joy of being accepted and reuniting with friends from summer school has settled, the harsh truth of scholarship life descends on Omar and his friends. They have to work extra hard to achieve what turns out to be almost impossible, the approval to stay on beyond the first year. Battling regulations that make it practically impossible for scholarship students to succeed, the boys work together and find that friendship and optimism carry them a long way, but will it be enough for all of them in the end?
I will add this title to our international school elementary library to ensure that my students get a window to other children's lives and struggles to achieve what many take for granted.
4.5 stars. Young Omar is accepted into a prestigious boys’ boarding school, Ghalib Academy, on scholarship, to the delight of his mother and friends. Omar is thrilled, but also feels the weight of his expectations, and his village’s. As the son of a servant, Omar sees graduating from this school as his first step to a career as an astronomer and the ability to buy a house for his mother. So he’s full of optimism and ambition when he arrives. His friends from the school’s orientation are there, also scholarship kids, and they’re all excited and eager, and knowing what their acceptance into the school means to their working class and/or poor parents. What the boys find out soon, and to their disappointment and horror, is that different requirements are put on scholarship kids, such as no extracurricular activities because the boys must do chores, whether in the kitchen, laundry or grounds, and must also maintain A+ averages, all with heavy and difficult homework loads. They learn that every year, several scholarship kids are dismissed from the school, despite high marks and lots of chores performed. As the school has mostly kids from wealthy backgrounds, and the Board wants to keep it that way, it’s not unusual for most kids from economically disadvantaged backgrounds to never make it beyond year one or two. Omar has to find it within himself to be brave, and to fight for himself, his friends, and for change at the school for scholarship kids.
A terrific book! I loved Aisha Saeed’s story about Amal, in Amal Unbound, and how Amal had to find the strength within herself to resist a bad situation and find a way to make her life better. Here, Omar finds that hard work alone doesn’t guarantee one’s acceptance, especially when the deck is deliberately stacked against oneself to unfairly support and promote those already with privilege. Aisha’s Omar begins finding the support and strength he needs in his friends, and in the wider community of students, once he begins sharing his situation, and describing the discrimination in the school’s system.
It’s an uplifting story about working together to make a change; the story is hopeful and hopefully empowering for other kids seeing injustice in their lives.
Thank you to Netgalley and to Penguin Young Readers Group for this ARC in exchange for my review.
Richie’s Picks: OMAR RISING by Aisha Saeed, Penguin Random House/Nancy Paulsen, February 2022, 224p., ISBN: 978-0-593-10868-1
“When you get so down that you can’t get up And you want so much, but you’re all out of luck When you’re so downhearted and misunderstood Just over and over and over you go Yeah, hold on tight to your dreams” – Jeff Lynne (1981)
“‘How bad?’ I ask him. ‘Seventy-two. I can’t believe it,’ he says shakily. It’s almost a D.’ ‘You did better than me,’ I say. ‘I actually did get a D.’ ‘I didn’t even think the test was that hard,’ Naveed says in a tight voice. ‘How could we have done this badly? And Motz says we need to study harder. That’s not humanly possible.’ ‘That’s the point,’ Faisal says. ‘What do you mean?’ I ask. Faisal fixes his gaze down at the damp rag in his hand. ‘You haven’t figured it out yet?’ His easygoing demeanor is gone. ‘Figured what out?’ Naveed asks. He takes in Faisal’s somber expression and then the cook’s. He shrinks back. ‘You’re–you’re scaring me.’ Faisal hesitates, but then– ‘This is your weed-out year.’ ‘Weed-out year?’ I repeat. What do you mean?’
Omar Ali, a twelve-year-old Pakistani schoolboy, becomes the pride of his rural village when he earns a scholarship to attend Chalib Academy, a prestigious boarding school. But after arriving there, he comes to understand that the scholarships are little more than a strategy employed in order to make the school look good.
The reality is that the scholarship students, like Omar, are treated unfairly. They are forbidden to participate in the rich variety of extracurriculars offered to the rest of the students. They must each spend an hour a day providing free labor, such as working in the kitchen or folding laundry. And then, an upper-grade scholarship student clues Omar into the fact that the administration expects scholarship students to maintain a near-impossible A+ average in order to avoid being “weeded out.”
Omar is a great student, but his Achilles heel is his English class. It is being taught by the school’s sullen headmaster/executioner, who had me recalling John Houseman in The Paper Chase.
The heavy-handed classism fostered by the school’s policies seems so backward and unfair, but what can be done about it? Omar and a couple of friends form a study group, and forgo most diversions, in order to do as well as they possibly can. But will these efforts be enough to meet the ridiculous grade requirement that only applies to the scholarship kids? Can anything be done to change the system?
As a long-ago student activist, this one definitely made me smile.
Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin Young Readers Group for the review copy of Omar Rising by Aisha Saeed. Because Amal Unbound was a favorite the year I read it, I knew I needed to get my hands on Omar's story as soon as it was available. As little as Omar was in Amal's story, he was a likable character, and I couldn't wait to see what Saeed would do with him.
Omar Rising begins shortly after the events of Amal Unbound. It follows Omar to his boarding school as a scholarship kid. Although he had high hopes of being as involved as possible there, his hopes are dashed when he soon discovers that scholarship students are treated very differently than traditional students. Omar must look deep within himself to have the courage to rise above the limitations placed on him.
I absolutely loved this story and the characters. It is a story worth sharing and discussing over and over.
Omar is very pleased that he managed to get into the prestigious Ghalib Academy for Boys, but he is also nervous about it. It means leaving his mother and boarding at the school, and not coming home again until December. He's excited about learning about the planets, and looking forward to reacquainting himself with boys he met at the summer program at the school. He's sad about leaving his friends, especially Amal, who is back home after her horrible year in Amal Unbound. Ghalib is a great school, with a terrific library, new science labs, and a kind and supportive art teacher. Omar has good friends in Kareem, whose father works at the school, Naveed, and even older Faisal. Aiden, however, is cold and rude, and thinks the school is not very nice, since his father is very wealthy. Headmaster Moiz has put all of the Scholarship Boys into an English language class that he teachers, and Omar feels that he doesn't like him very much. The Scholarship boys also have to do five hours of service at the school, from folding laundry to cleaning to helping out in the kitchen, and are not allowed to be in any clubs. Most of the other students don't seem to look down at them for this, but the requirements of the scholarship don't allow much time for anything but studying. Omar does take a few breaks, and talks to his mother on the phone, but he is very concerned about his grades, especially since they aren't good in Moiz's class. He starts an interesting art project, and when he returns home in December, Amal tells him that he doesn't have to suffer through everything alone. He asks Moiz for help with English and starts to do better in class. His art project goes well, and he even starts to understand and befriend Aiden. When the end of the year rolls around, Omar and Naveed's grades aren't good for them to receive a scholarship the next year. They feel that the requirements are unfair, and rally the other students around this injustice. Will it be enough for them to be able to return? Strengths: Amal Unbound has been a very popular book; it's being used by a seventh grade teacher for a class unit, and I'm sure that my readers will be very happy to see more about life in Pakistan. Any story that shows my students how lucky they are to be able to come to school every day is one that I enjoy, and Omar's struggles to do well in class are quite admirable. My students are interested in boarding school stories, so movie nights, sneaking into the kitchen, and playing sports with friends will appeal to them. Omar's family situation is very interesting, and it was good to see Amal's family again. Weaknesses: This did not have as many details about daily life as Amal's story did, and I would have liked to see more descriptions of the classrooms and activities, and also more adventures outside the school, but it's hard to fit everything into the book. There was a decided paucity of descriptions of food, although there are a few. What I really think: I'm definitely purchasing this one, but it did have me scratching my head a bit. Omar's scholarship comes with very specific criteria, but then, I think most scholarships do. My own college scholarship required me to maintain an A average, major in a particular field, and only work certain university jobs. My graduate scholarship wasn't renewed even though I had the grades; the committee just didn't renew it. I wasn't even given any reasons. Is this a broken system, or just a system that didn't work to my advantage? I don't know what the finances of Ghalib Academy were, and how many scholarship students they could afford. Is this injustice? I just never thought of it that way.
Omar gets accepted to a private school on scholarship but is expected to work for free, cannot play in extracurricular events, and must maintain an A plus average. Most scholarship boys do not make past their first year. A look at injustice in education and activism to seek change. A heartwarming story.
Aisha Saeed is able to bring justice, equality, empowerment, and friendship into one amazing book, for youth who want a change. An empowering story representing the young activists and politicians, and lawyers in our prescence. Thank you Aisha Saeed and stay rebel!
Oh wow, I was gifted an early copy of Omar Rising, a companion book to the Global Read Aloud choice Amal Unbound in 2018. I read this copy in one sitting yesterday, it is so fantastic. Omar’s story is fully his own and once again invites us into the rich life of a child from Pakistan who is trying to change the chance the world has given him. When he is selected to go to an exclusive boarding school, he knows his whole village is counting on him to be more than they could be. But sometimes being given a chance to succeed is not actually the full reality and so what can you do when the system continues to be stacked against you despite having proven yourself worthy of the space you are taking up. A perfect addition not just for us to read but also for read alouds, book clubs and such for 4th grade and up. Middle schoolers would also love it. Preorder this new book from Aisha Saeed for its February release! #pernillerecommends
It's not even out yet and I'm asking for more? No, I'll sit content with the delightfully honest story of Omar, Amal's friend from Amal Unbound in his own book, Omar Rising. Saeed has done it again. And I love that the covers bear similarities to make the connection.
The story's central character has a new opportunity, to attend a boarding school away from home on scholarship. But being a scholarship kid means something specific when they get to the school- it means certain activities are off limits and a different standard for grades. And Omar wakes up to what he must do to fight back against these limitations and low expectations by speaking out, asking for help, and garnering support where he can.
All of the elements are there: well-rounded characters and an amazing cast of boys who are friends at the school, one bully who's eventually welcomed into the fold because damnit, those boys are better than that, and a whole lot of gentle reminders about the danger of inequality and classism. Omar's experiences instruct a new generation about how to approach a challenge or issue with grace and still make good trouble.
*I think my only quizzical expression came at the very beginning when Saeed uses soccer rather than football- Omar's favorite sport because they are in Pakistan. The United States really needs to just admit that it's football and call football in the United States something else. We're wrong.*
"'There you go,' Kareem says. 'Add us up and you get yourself one perfect student.' 'We'll help each other. We've been studying hard. Now we'll study smarter. We're going to prove them wrong.' ... We will prove him wrong."
I am a huge fan of Aisha Saeed. I will read everything this author rights. I loved Amal Unbound and when I found out this was being released, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I loved the character of Omar, I loved how Amal made an appearance in this. While it’s not a direct sequel, she is there after going through what she did, which was mentioned briefly. Omar receives a scholarship to the prestigious Ghalib Academy for boys. At first there is joy and making the most of this opportunity given to him. But Omar soon realises that to maintain his scholarship he has to work hard above all else, while also meeting the requirements of the scholarship, battling outdated regulations that is made to see these students fail. Omar, with the help of his friend, decide enough is enough. It’s a beautifully written story. Can’t wait to read more by this author.
“Finding out how hard it was to actually stay at this school, I’d started pushing away my dreams, afraid it would hurt more if it all crashed down. But maybe holding onto your dreams is how you make your way through.”
After reading Amal Unbound I had high hopes for this book and its characters. While I don't think it was as profound as its companion, I still think the story was interesting. Omar receives a scholarship to Ghalib Academy along with some other students including his roommate Kareem. Even though it is a great honor, he realizes quickly the requirements to maintain his scholarship are strict and in his eyes unfair. The story centers around his efforts to try to fix a broken system. Like Amal Unbound, I enjoyed the characters and the relationships that had with each other. The story was fast moving so it will be very easy for me to put this in the hands of some of my reluctant readers. I like that it was a classic middle grade novel in that the plot wasn't too complicated and the characters were mostly relatable. I'm curious to see if she expands on any other characters in this series. Definitely read Amal Unbound first.
From the author of ‘Amal Unbound’ comes ‘Omar Rising’. A story about education, expectations, hope and resilience. A story that teaches and celebrates the power of unity and standing firm against injustice. Twelve-year-old Omar has been accepted in the prestigious Ghalib Academy, his friends and family are overjoyed at this opportunity. Omar, along with the other scholarship recipients, arrive at Ghalib Academy with dreams and a plan to accomplish them. Omar knows a good education is key to a bright and secure future for his widowed mom and himself. As Omar struggles to handle the workload, he learns about the ‘weed year’. Scholarship students must do chores,cannot take part in extracurricular activities while maintaining good grades. As the boys fight to survive in a system that is unfairly against them, we see them fall, learn and rise up! Aisha Saeed brilliantly brings forth the burden born by ‘the scholarship’ students. They know, recognize, appreciate, and understand the power of education and their struggle for success touches the readers hearts. Saeed narrates a beautiful story of hope and unexpected friendships which arise in a broken system. Readers will appreciate Saeed’s sensitive handling and narration, of the emotional and mental burden felt by the scholarship boys. As the story progresses, Omar learns about strength in numbers, how there are many who are willing to stand up in the face of injustice and advocate for others. He learns about the power of speaking up and being ‘Stubbornly Optimistic.’ Amal, from 'Amal Unbound' ,makes an appearance and bonds with Omar over books,knowledge and doing what's right! 'Omar Rising'; a powerful read that will teach children to stand up and speak up! (Omar Rising releases Feb 1st. Thank you to @netgalley for an EARC in exchange for an honest review.) Omar RisingAisha Saeed
I loved Amal Unbound, and Omar Rising did not disappoint. ❤️ I love that Omar gets his own complete story which has references to Amal's, but can stand completely alone. The themes of injustice and the expectation that young people from oppressed groups need to prove themselves more than the privileged masses are so important. I listened to the audiobook and my 8 year old son got sucked right in. This is really saying something for a kid who generally isn't interested if a book doesn't include dinosaurs or murderous dragons. 😂 Highly recommended! The narrator was also lovely to listen to!
This companion book to Amal Unbound covers Omar's first year at a prestigious boarding school. It is a much different experience than he expected, and not just because it is more rigorous academically than his village school. As a scholarship boy, he learns that he is not on equal footing with the rest of the students. He has different requirements and restrictions, which drastically affect his time there. Omar is determined to succeed, no matter what hurdles are placed in front of him. Recommended for grades 4 & up.
Though this book was clearly for a younger audience I enjoyed it all the same. It was an inspiring motivational story following Omar, a boy facing hardships at his new boarding school, because he's there on scholarship. It was written well and with a good pace, and just had an overly positive message that made my day!
I started out unsure of how engaging this book would actually be, but Saeed DELIVERED with complex plots and characters! I was especially impressed with the headmaster, and how he constantly was surprising Omar. This book is a great reminder to young readers to be brave, ask questions, and challenge the status quo. I hope it inspires many future leaders
I enjoyed the setup. The characters are well-defined and differentiated. Potential conflicts abound. The first 20 pages remind me of the first 20 pages of a Gordon Korman novel- efficient, polished, and effective.
I love that we have a realistic fiction book about a young man in Pakistan trying to find his way. Usually this type of story features a female protagonist. This is a companion novel to Amal Unbound. Great story about overcoming challenges and advocating for yourself.
I enjoyed this book, and I love that it will be some children’s first introduction to activism and peaceful protest. The stakes felt realistic for the age level involved and there were pure moments of joy mixed in with the struggle. This is a good one to hand to boys who love to read!
I had really high hopes for Omar Rising, and I'm honestly disappointed that they weren't met. I loved Amal Unbound, so when I found out that Saeed had another book, I was so excited. Maybe if I hadn't read Amal Unbound before I read Omar Rising I would have liked it a little better. That being said, I still liked the story of Omar Rising, even if it wasn't what I hoped for.