❈ Huge thanks to Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing for providing me with an ARC in exchange for a fair review❈
Title: Saints and Misfits
Author: S.K. Ali
Release Date: June 13th 2017
Category: Young Adult
Content Warning: Attempted Rape
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?
Saints and Misfits follows Janna, a teenage Egyptian Indian Muslim girl, who loves Flannery O’Connor and has to navigate her faith, high school, and her love life. Janna’s parents are divorced so she lives with her Egyptian Muslim mother while visiting her Indian father who has now remarried on occasion. Her life changes drastically when her brother leaves college and comes to live at home, and when a well respected, seemingly pious boy in her community named Farooq attempts to rape her.
Overall, I enjoyed Saints and Misfits. There were a lot of stellar aspects, but I was left with a feeling of wanting more. Not necessarily in a “I want a sequel” kind of way (although I do think it would be cool if there was a sequel with Sausun), but in a “I wanted more from THIS story”. That’s not to say Saints and Misfits wasn’t a spectacular read. I just think it could’ve been that much better of certain aspects of the story were taken advantage of or expanded on (also see the note at the end of my review).
The cast of characters was the strong point of Saints and Misfits. I was not expected this to be such a character driven story or to have such rich, dynamic characters. We get to see characters whose faith and dedication to Islam are all across the board, which I loved. It was amazing to see how different people practice their beliefs and what they got out of it. We also get to see the good side of faith and the bad side of faith. All of the characters felt like distinct individuals. Trust me, there’s a character for everyone.
Since the characters were so strong, the relationships were also noteworthy. And there was such a variety of types of relationships. Again, I was extremely impressed with how many different types of people and relationships there were in Saints and Misfits. I had two favorite relationships in particular and they were Janna’s relationship with Mr. Ram, the elderly Hindu man she helps care for, and Janna’s relationship with Sausun who wears a niqab and is a youtuber (Janna’s relationship with Nuah was another highlight but I really wanted more from them). Both relationships helped Janna grow as a person and gain the strength to call Farooq out. They also didn’t feel like empty relationships. Supporting characters that are instrumental in the main character’s development can come off as plot devices but that wasn’t the case with Mr. Ram and Sausun. They felt like real people with lives independent of Janna’s.
One of the themes in Saints and Misfits is literature, which, of course, as a book lover was enjoyable to see. Janna uses O’Connor’s work as a coping device because in that world, the monsters, especially ones that hide behind saint masks, are punished and brought to justice. The name of the book even comes from those stories. Mr. Ram was a book editor in India so a lot of Janna’s interactions with him, which were some of my favorite parts of the book, revolve around that. They also have some discussions around the Tempest. I wish we got more of the “literature~” theme for lack of better wording. It wasn’t as spread out through the book as I wanted it to be. If it was, I think that would’ve knocked it out of the park for me.
If you are totally unfamiliar with Islam and are worried you won’t understand things, worry not, Saints and Misfits is very accessible. S.K. Ali does a great job of weaving in facts about Islam that don’t feel like random information drops. At one point, the characters go on a road trip to a Muslim Bowl Quiz. They answer several basic questions like ‘what are the five categories of protections enshrined in the laws”. Then there’s also scenes with Janna’s uncle, a leader at their mosque, answering questions from the Muslim Community online. Janna sorts the emails with questions for him to pick ones for him to answer and proof reads his answers . I loved that that was included. It did such a great job of making her feel real because she was doing mundane tasks while also answering harder questions about navigating Islam in the modern world.
The ending did feel kind of abrupt. I’m usually a big fan of open endings. I don’t need everything to be tied up in a nice, neat knot if the implication that the resolution is gonna be there. That was not how I felt with Saints and Misfits. With a story like this one, I would’ve preferred to see the resolution of calling out Farooq & more of Janna’s relationship with her mother and brother being mended. The ending wasn’t bad. I loved Janna’s parting words and I get why S.K. Ali ended it there but I ultimately needed more.
This was more of a 3.7ish I guess but I’m rounding up. I had a really hard time getting through this book. I think this read dragged on because I’ve been in a bad reading slump, and reading on Adobe Digital Editions with my ADHD is next to impossible. I don’t want to punish the book for my poor reading experience when I possibly could’ve enjoyed it much more if I read it at another time or in another format.