Omar Rising

Penguin/Nancy Paulsen. Feb. 2022. 224p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780593108581.
Gr 5 Up–When 12-year-old Omar gets accepted into Ghalib Academy for Boys, he knows it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In this companion novel to Saeed’s Amal Unbound, Omar’s Pakistani village is all rooting for him. Omar’s mom works as a servant for Amal’s family, and Omar and Amal have been lifelong friends. While Omar is excited for this opportunity, he hates how beginnings are always tied to endings, but he realizes he has to leave behind all he knows to create a better life for himself. When he arrives, Omar’s roommate is fellow scholarship student, Kareem. Across the hall, wealthy Aiden arrives with servants in tow, declaring their new school a dump. Omar observes that he and Aiden are at the same school but somehow see it so differently. Initially unbenownst to them, scholarship students face different unspoken criteria. Unofficially, they are in a “weed out” year their first year, and have to get a nearly impossible A+ average to keep their scholarship. Omar works diligently, doing everything possible to stay at Ghalib. As the year progresses and the other students learn of the inequities, the students band together to help. Omar learns many lessons along the way about people not being who he thinks they are, including Aiden and Headmaster Moiz. Saeed has successfully created multi-layered characters who are rich in their culture, their drive to succeed, and their family values.
VERDICT A richly woven tale with characters all will root for; readers will be outraged at life’s unfairness, and cheer for Omar’s success. A stellar novel which may open eyes to the inequities many young people face in their lives.

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