Friday, June 16, 2017

Review: Saints and Misfits - S.K. Ali

Saints and Misfits
S.K. Ali
Series: n/a
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster BYR
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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 tightknit Muslim community think of her then?
Saint. Misfit. Monster. These are titles bandied around within this story of self-discovery. Janna often identifies as a "misfit" - she is a book nerd, avid photographer, academic over-achiever, who likes boys with high foreheads, and one high forehead in particular, belongs to a non-muslim boy. While Janna is struggling with this "crush", she is also grappling with exposing a so-called "saint" for the monster he really is.

There were so many things I liked about this book, but the most important thing for me was how Ali was sharing her culture and religion with me. I am a huge proponent of learning more about people, who hold different beliefs from ourselves,  so that we can build bridges. In my adult life, I have met many Muslims, but I still have a lot to learn, and found some of what Ali shared very insightful.
"There are diverse ways of reading texts, depending on who you are. We all access books differently."
This quote stopped me dead in my tracks, as I get very frustrated with the social media wars waged against some authors. I accept that the collective "we" bring different experiences to the table, and it was such a relevant point Ali raised. The context was very interesting too. But, I digress....

A horrible, terrible, very bad thing happened to Janna, and she accepted to carry this burden by herself, because the perpetrator dons his "saint" mask for the community, whereas, Janna has been recently found in a few compromising situations. Right there, Ali illustrated the way many victims are made to feel. The burden of proof is on the victim, and any of their indiscretions can and will be used against them. So instead, Janna lives in fear of him, and withers away inside. These parts were written quite effectively, because I felt and shared Janna's pain. I wanted to reach into the page and harm the "monster".
"Instead, I see a husk of corn. An empty one. Because, like Mr. Ram said, that's what the master is, just a husk with nothing inside."
As far as MCs go, Janna was very likable. This girl had so many good qualities, and I quickly fell in love with her. She was bright, driven, artistic. She was fun, quirky, and a little awkward. She was also lucky enough to be surrounded by so many people, who loved her. From Nuah, Muhammad, Mr. Ram, Sarah, Tats, to even Sausun, there were so many people, who cared enough about Janna to realize something was wrong.
"I can't imagine what it means to love everyone. But I'm just going to start right here, by loving a bit more of myself. And maybe then the rest will follow."
And speaking of all these wonderful characters, I have to commend Ali on the fine cast she assembled. Nuah was so goofy, sweet, and funny, he instantly won a place in my heart. Muhammad was lovesick, but still able to be a good big brother, who meant well, and the sibling bond was excellently illustrated. Mr. Ram was such a beautiful addition to this story. I truly adored the time that he and Janna shared together. He was a font of wisdom and shared all these beautiful thoughts along with some very lovely poetry. Sarah ended up being one of the more complicated characters. I was really surprised by her and it was a pleasant surprise. But the best, was Sausun.
"Do you want him to keep thinking he's got you in control, like he's going to dictate how you act, how you are, just because you won't give in to him?"
Sausun was a niqabi, she covered her face in addition to her hair, and she was the most fierce and empowered character in this book. Sausun had an anger that was fueled by the treatment of her sister. She believed women were not chattel, but should be respected. She saw the niqab as a symbol of this empowerment, and it was quite awesome the way it was explained.
"Plus most girls who cover their faces do it because they want to be the ones to decide who gets to see them."

"Well, when you think of it that way, it sounds kind of powerful. Like no one can sum up your identity without permission."
Ali effortlessly intertwined heavy issues such as assault, bullying, taboo dating, divorce, and victimization with levity and joy. She introduced many aspects of the Muslim religion seamlessly into the story, and taught me some things without getting preachy. This is a solid debut, and I look forward to more of Ali's stories.

**I would like to thank the publisher for the advanced copy of this book. Quotes are from an ARC and may change upon publication.

Have you ever participated in a quiz bowl?
Let us know in the comments!


  1. I just read a review for this one yesterday and now with yours I know I need to add this to my TBR. It sounds like such a great story wth some really important topics hit on. Great review!

    1. I am loving all these cultural coming of age stories that are coming out. I read this, The Thing We Call a Heart, and The Authentics all in a row, and really enjoyed them all.

  2. This sounds really good. I really need to read more books that feature different cultures and religions. Thanks for putting this book on my radar!

    1. I really liked the way the author shared the culture and religion with us, but it was also about the relationships (isn't it always for me?).

  3. Sounds terrific, and I went straight over to Goodreads to add it to my TBR.

    1. Glad it caught your interest. I thought it was a strong debut, and I loved the way Ali chose to share things with us, the readers.

  4. Ah, why are there so many amazing books coming out this year? It's so hard to keep up with everything. The cover first made me think this was just a light contemporary, but reading your review has made me realize otherwise. I did not know this one focuses on such serious topics. Great review!

    1. This books definitely addresses some serious topics, but it has some really light-hearted moments too. I am big on balance in a book, and this book fit that bill. And agreed, I want to read everything, but it's impossible to read them all.

  5. I can't wait to read this one! I totally agree with you I love reading a book where I can learn about a different culture. I also love that first quote that you picked about accessing books differently I could not agree more. Great review!

    1. I am in love with all these #OwnVoices coming of age tales. It's a perspective that means so much more to me, than reading a wiki to learn the same things. And that quote spoke volumes to me. I found Ali's debut delightful, and am looking forward to more from her.