This book was equally heart-warming and heart-breaking. I found myself unable to put this book down, and I found it wholly a good thing.
Title: Saints and Misfits
Author: S.K. Ali
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers / Salaam Reads
Release date: June 13, 2017
Genre: Young adult, contemporary
Length: 325 pages
Synopsis: (via Goodreads) “Saints and Misfits is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.
There are three kinds of people in my world:
1. Saints, those special people moving the world forward. Sometimes you glaze over them. Or, at least, I do. They’re in your face so much, you can’t see them, like how you can’t see your nose.
2. Misfits, people who don’t belong. Like me—the way I don’t fit into Dad’s brand-new family or in the leftover one composed of Mom and my older brother, Mama’s-Boy-Muhammad.
Also, there’s Jeremy and me. Misfits. Because although, alliteratively speaking, Janna and Jeremy sound good together, we don’t go together. Same planet, different worlds.
But sometimes worlds collide and beautiful things happen, right?
3. Monsters. Well, monsters wearing saint masks, like in Flannery O’Connor’s stories.
Like the monster at my mosque.
People think he’s holy, untouchable, but nobody has seen under the mask.
TW: Sexual assault, attempted rape
Janna is a 15-year-old Muslim girl, with strong ties to the Muslim religious community, her friends, and her family. She likes Flannery O’Conner and photography. I think this is very much a coming-of-age story for Janna, especially in regards to what happened between her and her best friend’s cousin, a teenaged boy named Farooq, referred to quite often by Janna as “the monster.” I applaud Janna’s bravery in many of the situations where she comes face to face with the monster. I enjoyed how Janna navigated the different parts of her life, especially her home life and the tension brought on by her mother.
Janna definitely seemed to be discovering herself, trying to find out where she fits best, exploring different ways of wearing her hijab, and, sadly enough, trying to defend those very reasons to her other Muslim friends. I liked her relationship with Mr. Ram, the elderly man she takes to and from the community center every week. He provides a contrasting view of things, different than that of her parents, who are divorced, and even other members of the Muslim community (mainly because Mr. Ram isn’t Muslim).
I enjoyed the interactions between Janna and Jeremy, the non-Muslim, white boy she has a crush on at school. They were really adorable, and I wish we had more of them toward the ending, and their parting felt a little weird. I liked how Janna developed relationships with other girls she didn’t think she would form friendships with. There was an underlying understanding with two of the other female characters, and I liked both of their stories as well. However, I did find it a bit annoying how Muhammed, Janna’s brother, was so bent on proving his worth to Sarah’s parents when it really seemed like Sarah herself wasn’t sure about their relationship, and I think it escalated even more when Sarah ran into two friends from her past.
In terms of writing style, this book is a simple, quick read. This is the first book I’ve read that takes places wholly within a Muslim community. Janna has no qualms pointing out a variety of hypocrisies in her own community, but that doesn’t necessarily deter her away from it. My favorite part of the story was definitely the main character herself, and I think if I were in a situation similar to hers, I find that she has a lot more courage than I would, especially toward the end of the book.