Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali
Digital Audiobook narrated by Ariana Delawari
Published by Salaam Reads / Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers on June 13, 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Young Adult
Length: 325 pages or 8 hours, 5 minutes
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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 tightknit Muslim community think of her then?
I think I may have added Saints and Misfits to my TBR on a whim just before it came out (two years ago) and then promptly forgot about it. … Until it popped up at the head of my TBR! I’ve been in a bit of a reading rut lately – I’ve been reading and listening, but haven’t really been able to fully immerse myself in anything, even old favorites. Little did I suspect that Saints and Misfits would pull me in so thoroughly!
I would like to take this moment for the traditional aside – I am a white woman and cannot begin to understand what life is truly like for a young hijabi Muslim girl with Indian heritage. This is an #OwnVoices book, and I urge you to seek out #OwnVoices review to see how the representation holds up.
Saints and Misfits did such a good job of following a minority character in her daily life. Janna is regularly at her mosque, and wears her hijab. She deals with racism from the well-meaning friend – who does not get that she doesn’t want to show her hair to a boy – to strangers who back away from Sausan (who is niqabi). She makes mistakes in her practice, and she acknowledges there. Janna is flawed, but from the perspective of a non-#OwnVoices reader, she was very well written.
Not just Janna, though. Everyone was well-written. Sausan was a favorite, as well as Saint Sarah. I liked the relationship between Janna and her brother Mohammad. The relationships in general were all so good. Janna and Mr. Rand had an amazing friendship and my heart broke at the turn of that relationship in the story. There were a lot of good connections between characters throughout, even when I was deeply disappointed in the actions of the character.
The plot here was good, but despite the weight of the incident, I found that the weight did not brand the book as “a book about attempted sexual assault” any more than Janna’s beliefs marked it as “a book about a Muslim girl”. This was a book about Janna, who happened to be a victim of attempted sexual assault, and who happens to be Muslim. I actually liked that about the book, because it allowed the character to be more than her labels. I can see where other readers will feel let down by the lack of absolute whether on certain issues and circumstances, so this is just something to be aware of.
All together, an enjoyable read, despite some of the themes. Saints and Misfits was a refreshing break back into novels that I felt like I could just… read. Read and get to know the characters. Even though important things were happening throughout, S. K. Ali wrote in such a way that this book felt like a novel and not a social commentary. It’s a novel with social commentary, and I really liked that.
Do you have any good recommendations for YA books with Indian leads? This is the second I read this year, and I loved it to pieces. I’d really like to read more of this rep, which I feel like the community doesn’t shout about a lot. Let me know your favorites!