review: saints and misfits



Saints and Misfits is everything i've been waiting for in the Young Adult genre. It is so exciting to finally see  proper Muslim representation in one of my favourite genres to read, and a huge bonus is that the book is actually pretty incredible. I am very impressed by S. K. Ali's debut novel, and I am definitely excited to read more books published by Salaam Reads. I am rating this beautiful book 4.75 stars, it's definitely going to make it into one of my favourites of the year!

Synopsis from Goodreads:

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?

Oh God, where do I start with this review? The not-that-cliche plot? The amazing blend of imperfect characters? The friendship goals? The important issues being discussed and tackled? How empowering it is for Muslim women who are being mistreated? How it shows the beauty of Islam without sounding like it's trying to preach it to your face? How relatable the main character's struggles are as a hijabi? The possibilities are endless, so let's just do this the usual way;

The Plot

I have to be honest, i was expecting this to have a simple, typical YA contemporary plot. I thought it would be about a Muslim girl falling for a non-Muslim guy and things go horribly wrong before going perfectly right. Okay yes, it does have a little bit of that particular plot line, but the story developed so much deeper than that because of the issues that it addresses. It became about Janna trying to deal with a horrible thing that happened to her all by herself, about her relationship with her family, her friends who share the same religion and those who don't, Janna's image in the Muslim community, her life in high school, Janna struggling with her faith, and even about her relationship with her neighbour. I was hooked into the story right away, and it kept me gripped up until the end.

Many important issues were mentioned in this book. The most important issue in my opinion was about sexual harassment, particularly from the last people we would expect to do such things. It sheds light to the reality that there are people out there who appear pious and holy but uses the image to hide behind who they truly are. I truly appreciated that this issue wasn't only just discussed, but the author even addressed what a person who has experienced it can do about the situation.

The Writing

I was very impressed with S. K. Ali's writing. I love how easy it was to get into, and the way she tries to portray the wonderful things about Islam without shoving it to the reader's face. I thought it was very clever of her to explain the more factual things about Islam in a sort of forum style that was very informative and was 'written' in a very kind and considerate way by one of her characters. There was also an Islamic Quiz Bowl kind of thing happening in the story, and it was a really smart way of trying to tell us more about the religion. I thought it was really interesting to read how similar and how different the Muslim community in America (or in non-Muslim countries in general) is compared to the ones in Muslim-majority countries like Malaysia.


The Characters

I absolutely LOVE the characters! The main character, Janna, is just so relatable I love her a lot. She isn't perfect, she does make some very questionable decisions, but that's the exact reason why it was so easy to like her and relate to her. She's still just a teenager, and I thought it was terrific that her character showed the reader that hijabis have their own struggles and are honestly just human just like everyone else. My favourite thing about Janna's character in the book was reading about her dilemmas regarding wearing her headscarf. It's something that I know many Muslim girls and even grown women have experienced or considered, and i appreciated this being addressed so much.

There were also other characters who were just fantastic. Lets start with Janna's brother, Muhammad, who makes me wish I had a brother of my own. Then there's the girl Muhammad was courting (Islamically lol), Sarah, whose role in this book is just so important at the end. I love Janna's non-Muslim friends too, especially Tatyana. Sausun was also a kickass character, she reminded me so much of Sana from SKAM. And oh my God, Mr Ram! Janna's relationship with Mr Ram is so, so important to highlight one of the beautiful teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), which is to treat your neighbours well, even if they are not Muslim. Even as a Muslim who already knew this, I'm very inspired. I love that I can also reflect about Islam while reading this book. Sometimes the things we learnt have sort of become a chore or a memorized textbook answer, and we forget to really reflect its significance.

However, I wish we could have seen more of Janna's relationship with her parents, especially her mother. I feel like the author introduced us to so many interesting characters, i would LOVE to see her write a book about each of their stories. OH I forgot to mention one of my favourite characters: Nuah!! CAN I HAVE A NUAH IN MY LIFE? THANKS.


Overall

I love this book. It probably isn't perfect, and different people may take different things from it, but personally I loved the messages it sends, and how empowering it is for a Muslim hijabi like me. I think everyone, girls AND boys, Muslims AND non-Muslims, should read it. Non-Muslims can find out so much about Islam that has nothing to do with terrorism or oppression or the other stereotypical images seen on social media or portrayed in movies. Muslims can reflect a lot from the issues being addressed. Boys can learn more about the struggles faced by hijabis, and girls can hopefully relate to many of the situations Janna faced. If you get into the book as deeply as I did, you'd read the last page feeling more inspired to love yourself a little bit more than you already do.






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Kamalia has read 15 books toward her goal of 50 books.
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