Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali
Publisher: Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: June 13th, 2017
Genre: YA Contemp/Diverse
Pages: 352 pages
Rating: ★★★★★ (5 Stars)
*Trigger warning: attempted rape
*HUGE thanks to Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster, Netgalley & S.K. Ali for the eGalley copy of Saints and Misfits
Saints and Misfits is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.
How much can you tell about a person just by looking at them?
Janna Yusuf knows a lot of people can’t figure out what to make of her…an Arab Indian-American hijabi teenager who is a Flannery O’Connor obsessed book nerd, aspiring photographer, and sometime graphic novelist is not exactly easy to put into a box.
And Janna suddenly finds herself caring what people think. Or at least what a certain boy named Jeremy thinks. Not that she would ever date him—Muslim girls don’t date. Or they shouldn’t date. Or won’t? Janna is still working all this out.
While her heart might be leading her in one direction, her mind is spinning in others. She is trying to decide what kind of person she wants to be, and what it means to be a saint, a misfit, or a monster. Except she knows a monster…one who happens to be parading around as a saint…Will she be the one to call him out on it? What will people in her tight knit Muslim community think of her then?
Before I get into my review of this wonderful gemstone of a book, I’d like to include two #Ownvoices reviews I found on Goodreads. Both Leenahreads (Muslim & Arab) & Hadeer (Muslim & Egyptian) give a perspective that is much needed in the community & appreciated by this bookworm. Also, today is the release day for Saints and Misfits & on behalf of LairOfBooks, I’d like to wish S.K. Ali a very happy book birthday!!!
In Saints and Misfits we follow our main protagonist Janna Yusuf who is a Arab Indian-American hijabi teen navigating life within her Muslim community & High School. Janna finds herself having a major crush on Jeremy, a Irish student in her school that is non-Muslim. With these feelings come a slew of questions we get to see Janna find answers to along the way. We are introduced to Janna’s family & friends as well as the community she is very involved with. The daughter of divorced/co-parenting parents, living with her mom & slightly older brother…Janna & her family are already viewed as different within their own community. Having a crush on a non-Muslim boy complicates things for her & to add to her plate, she’s harboring a hurtful secret. Janna doesn’t know whether she will be believed if she speaks up since the secret is about a respected individual in the community. This is a story about self reflection, family, community, identity, friendship, strength, faith & courage to face your fears.
Ever come across a fictional character who has qualities you yourself wish you possessed? such is the case with my admiration of Janna Yusuf. She is by no means perfect but strong willed and firm in her beliefs. Like any teenager she deals with High School crushes and social pressures both on & offline. Seeing her navigate through certain situations gives you a feeling that you’re reading one confident character. For the most part Janna is confident which was refreshing, I loved seeing her take pride in wearing Hijab. Janna’s sarcasm proved to be one of my fave qualities since witty characters always win me over. Perhaps my most favorite trait of Jannas is her interactions with those around her & how empathetic she is even when she doesn’t want to be lol. I also loved the relationship between Janna and her slightly older brother Muhammad. Throughout the book Janna’s older brother is courting another Muslim girl his age & he has asked Janna to supervise their dates. Janna does so even though she’s not a fan of his romantic interest & in doing so we get to see them spend more time around one another. It was nice seeing Muhammad be so attentive to Janna that he was able to pick up on there being something wrong. His genuine concern for his little sister made me wish he was my big brother *sobs*
Janna also has a non-Muslim bestie who I’m just going to go ahead and say it….Tats = Ride or Die Bestie for life! Tats is such an amazing friend to Janna & respectful of her beliefs even when social pressure got in the mix. Of course they had moments where Tats didn’t understand fully but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Ultimately Tats respected Janna & had her back, love seeing positive f/f relationships. Lastly, one of my fave characters was Mr. Ram who lived in Janna’s complex and who Janna would take to/from a community center for the elderly. Mr. Ram has a passion for poetry & for encouraging Janna to pursue what makes her happy whether it’s sketching or photography. He imparted so much wisdom to Janna & just loved life so much his good spirits were contagious right through the page. There were many other characters in this book but I fear that going into them all would take away from the fun it was getting to know them. Overall, an amazing cast of characters!
I have so much love for this book I don’t even know where to start honestly! as a diverse blogger, I know the importance of seeing these books on our shelves. Most recently I read a Latinx YA book that left me smiling from ear to ear because I saw myself on the pages. In reading reviews such as the ones I linked in the intro to my review, I get a sense that this will be the case for many Muslim, Hijab, Arab, Indian-American readers. I can honestly say this book gave me so much more than a few hours of enjoyment, the lessons I took away are of much higher value. S.K. Ali organically wove bits & pieces of culture, religion, and faith throughout Saints and Misfits making for a rich reading experience. Our main protagonist is holding onto a hurtful secret & Ali gives us a realistic view of the situation. What it really would be like to expose a religious leader & the ugly truth of it all. A strong message is delivered ,many will stand against you but also, many will stand WITH you. The strong theme of community at the core plays an integral role in Janna’s life & I believe Ali captured that well with Saints and Misfits. I 100% reccomend this book to any & all, I just can’t wait to read more from S.K. Ali! 🙂
Will you be picking up Saints and Misfits today? If you’ve already read & reviewed, please drop a link & I’ll most def swing by your corner of the interwebz 😉