Saturday, January 14, 2023

OMAR RISING: A MG Review by Teen Guest Blogger, Elliott Kurta


Omar Rising is the latest middle-school book from Aisha Saeed, featuring twelve-year-old Omar as he fights for justice at Ghalib Academy, an elite boarding school in Pakistan.


Despite having stayed at Ghalib over the previous summer, Omar is overwhelmed by the opulent campus. There’s a dining hall, soccer field, library, rec room, and walking paths. But Omar quickly realizes that he won’t be able to enjoy any of the luxuries in the Ghalib campus. As a scholarship student, he’s not only expected to maintain an A+ average in every subject, but is also required to complete five service hours a week while doing so. Worst of all, he’s not allowed to join the soccer or astronomy club, which he’s been waiting to join since the summer. As Omar struggles to keep up, he notices that none of his peers are held to the same standards that he is. Inspired by the artist and female rights activist Shehzil Malik, Omar decides to stand up for himself and rebel against the system that put him in Ghalib but is now doing its best to throw him out.

Omar Rising features a primarily Arabic characters and a corrupt school system as well as teachers that, frankly, have it out for their students. While this combination may seem too mature or complicated for middle schoolers, this novel perfectly packages real-world themes into digestible, easy-to-understand portions. Readers won’t just find themselves sympathizing with Omar, they’ll find themselves empathizing with him. It’s pretty easy to see yourself in Omar; he’s smart, a soccer-fanatic, sanguine, into science, and artistic. The poster child for childhood.

The rest of the characters are similarly likable. Kareen and Naveed, Omar’s roommates, add levity to each chapter. Similarly, Omar’s peers and soccer buddies, Humza, Jibril, and Marwan, give a more detailed glimpse into what the rest of the school looks like; carefree and preppy. Meanwhile, Omar struggles to keep up with his studies and manage his five weekly hours of chores, as he points out on pp. 80-81:

            “There are so many people who keep this school running. Gardeners. Cooks. Maintenance people. … They don’t need us to do this work. They just want to make sure we remember our place.”

Without delving too deep into the fact that he’s at the bottom of the hierarchy, Omar still delivers a poignant, impactful statement. This is only a small example of Omar’s emotional narration. Keeping pace with a fast-paced story, the middle-schooler’s monologues effortlessly switch from discussing soccer practice to elaborating on the pressure to succeed at Ghalib academy.

Omar Rising is an impactful and realistic novel, a call to action for any middle-schooler who has ever felt like an outsider. Through Omar, readers are educated about life in Pakistan and are inspired to make a difference in their own communities, just like the protagonist. The book is a reminder of how powerful resistance can be, even in the face of a system designed to create and widen inequalities. Overall, Omar Rising is a novel rooted in change and justice but still easily relatable to kids, perfect for young activists and innovators.

                                                ***

Congratulations to Connie Saunders who won DAISY AND THE MONA LISA. 

Don't forget to check out other great Middle-Grade books on Greg Pattridge's MMGM blog.



23 comments:

Terri DeGezelle Michels said...

thank you for what you do. I truly enjoy reading your posts. Terri

Carol Baldwin said...

Thank you, Terri. I'm glad you like ELliott's posts!

Antoinette said...

Wow! Great review. Thanks a bunch.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thank you, Antoinette!

Theresa Milstein said...

Wow, this is a time of school system like I've never heard before. Now I really want to read this book. Thanks for this review.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks for leaving a comment, Theresa. I know Elliott will be encouraged that you did!

Natalie Aguirre said...

I haven't read a book set in Pakistan. This sounds like a great one to start with. Omar sounds like such a great character. Thanks for the great review, Elliott.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thank you, Natalie. Yes, a different setting for sure!

Brenda said...

Interesting setting and theme, thank you for sharing it today. Happy MMGM.

Greg Pattridge said...

Another fantastic "Elliott review" of a book I read, but never had the time to feature on my site. The main character is quite endearing and I hope there will be more books in this setting. Thanks for being a part of MMGM this week.

Sue said...

The book sounds really good!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thank you Brenda, Greg, and Sue, for leaving comments for Elliott. It's a pleasure to be a part of the MMGM community!

Marci said...

Sounds intriguing! Thanks for sharing this book review, Elliott!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thank you for stopping by, Marci.

Glee Dunbar said...

Wow Elliot, I am usually not very interested in MG books, but now I want to read this! Thank you for the great review!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Glee. That's a great compliment to a reviewer!

Sue Heavenrich said...

This looks like a compelling story. Thanks for the review. Now I need to go find a copy to read!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thank you, Sue. That's a compliment to Elliott, as well as the author!

Valinora Troy said...

Nice to have you back again, Elliot! I must be very hard-hearted - I'm not feeling terribly sympathetic to Omar! Five hours a week work doesn't sound hugely onerous to me, as presumably his family has paid no fees and the other kids have huge fees. Granted, a decent scholarship should cover all costs, but attending this elite school seems a super opportunity. Especially in Pakistan where there are huge poverty and human rights issues. I'd love to read a MG book set in Pakistan all the same, and I may have misunderstood the point of the story. Guess I'll have to read it to find out! Either way, I enjoyed reading your review!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Valinora. I think somewhere in the back of my mind I wondered the same thing. But, like you said, we'll have to read the book to discover the whole story!

Rosi said...

Goodness, Elliott, what a stunning, mature, and complete review. I think I need to get to know Omar. I'm putting this book high on my TBR list. Thanks for the post.

Elliott Kurta said...

Thanks to all of you for your support! I'm so glad all of you liked my review. I enjoyed reading Omar Rising and learning about the school system in Pakistan, and I'm glad to see so much interest in the book!

Carol Baldwin said...

You have a fan club, Elliott. What will you read and review next?

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