book review: Omar Rising

title: Omar Rising
author: Aisha Saeed
date: Nancy Paulsen Books; February 2022
main characters: Omar Ali
middle grade realistic fiction

Aisha Saeed is an award-winning author. She is also a former second grade teacher, education attorney, and a founding member of the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books. Aisha most often writes books based in her Pakistani American heritage.

Omar Rising is a companion to the middle grade novel, Amal Unbound. Omar first appeared in that book. Enjoying a book so much makes it difficult to skip all the details in the review, from certain aspects of the story to techniques used by the author. It would be so much easier to say, it’s really good, go get a copy for your home and/or library! But, someone would ask why.

The story begins with Omar at home in his village playing soccer with his friends. He’s soon to leave to attend Ghalib Academy on scholarship. I don’t think we need to live in Pakistan to realize the benefits of attending a prestigious academy. Not only is the education expected to be far superior, but so is the level of networking. Omar’s family certainly knows this and they fully support Omar while also reminding him of his responsibilities to his home and community. The pressure of that responsibility weighs on Omar in his drive to be a successful student. From the outset, readers are made aware of the discrepancies scholarship students face, from attitudes to systemic barriers. Overcoming these is essential to Omar not only being a successful student but also to remaining in the school.

Saeed’s storytelling is focused on elements of privilege in the school, leaving minor characters undeveloped. The headmaster’s actions, which were essential to the story, often seemed baseless. However, the story’s realization of systemic oppression was spot on. No doubt, this is what readers will take away from the book. As art becomes one of Omar’s favorite subjects, readers (along with Omar) learn about the correlation of art to our passions; to resistance. Omar becomes tooled by being “stubbornly optimistic”.

Omar Rising is a really good book, so go get a copy!

read alikes:

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
Courage by B. A. Binns
Front Desk by Kelly Yang