Books by Muslim Authors, YA Books

Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali – Book Review

This is Sajidah’s debut book and a book I reread for the first time since I read it when it released.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

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?

Honestly I appreciated this book a lot more during my reread than I did the first time I read it. It’s a story that deals with several important topics within the Muslim community that don’t get enough attention and ways to deal with these issues openly and without stigma.

Janna is 15 and going through what a lot of Muslim teens go through living in the west, how to balance your faith and trying to fit in. A lot of youth don’t have someone they can trust to turn to for help in navigating this so they do so on their own and no one is perfect so they can make mistakes, they can bow to peer pressure which does happen to Janna.

Janna is assaulted and harassed by a boy who is known to have a wonderful reputation within the Muslim community and so she finds it difficult to speak up about what has happened to her. It was heart breaking to read about how much Janna struggles to work through her trauma completely alone and she also has to listen to everyone talk about how amazing her assaulter is. She even has to be around him because no one knows what he did to her and she can’t find a way to avoid him. He begins to stalk her and start a smear campaign against her because that will make it harder for her to speak up and be believed. It felt so real to read this. She is trying to move on but keeps getting pulled back and navigating all these complicated feelings. She feels isolated and it affects her relationships with family and friends. It was heart breaking to read about it.

One of the things I did love was that Janna may not have been able to speak up about the assault but she knew that it wasn’t her fault, that even though that monster tried to manipulate her she knew it wasn’t. This is something so important to read and see, that it is never the fault of the victim. I think the only thing I wish we got to see more of was what happened after she finally spoke up. Maybe we will get to see this in the sequel!

I also loved the range of Muslim women that are in this book from niqbi Sausan to “Saint” Sarah and even Fizz. Suasan is amazing and a badass, her sass and and how she carries herself wearing the niqab was so wonderful to see. Sarah may seem like a saint to Janna but once she spends some time with Sarah, she realises that actually she isn’t perfect but just trying her best like Janna. Fizz is another person in Janna’s life but one who is also related to the monster, she can be a little judgemental and see Islam in Black and white and it causes a rift between her and Janna. It was great to see all these different women in the book because we are all different and everyone is on their own journey in their faith.

And then we have Nuah, who clearly has a crush on Janna even though she is oblivious. She has a crush on Jeremy and it was interesting to see her journey through navigating her feelings towards him and trying to figure out how to manage these feelings because she didn’t want to date but also did want to spend time with him. It felt real and relatable. She is 15 and many of us have to navigate and balance our faith and our feelings especially at that age it can be difficult and you can feel pressured to do things you may not want to. But by the end she has resolved her feelings and realises that dating isn’t something she wants to do.

Nuah meanwhile is actually a great friend to her and never pressures her to feel or be more than a friend. He also is one of the few people who figures out that the monster has hurt Janna in some way and immediately believes her and says he is there for her if she needs some support and honestly I just fell in love with how sweet he is. I cannot wait to see him in Misfit in Love!

This is a story that deals with many difficult topics that young people deal with in the Muslim community and I am so glad I reread it as I think I appreciated the story a lot more in my reread. I am so excited for the sequel releasing in a few months!

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