Books by Muslim Authors, Diverse Books, YA Books

Misfit in Love by S.K. Ali – Book Review

This is the companion book to Saints and Misfits and I highly recommend you read this before this book. You can read my review of Saints and Misfits here. This book was everything I ever wanted and more!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Janna Yusuf is so excited for the weekend: her brother Muhammad’s getting married, and she’s reuniting with her mom, whom she’s missed the whole summer.

And Nuah’s arriving for the weekend too.

Sweet, constant Nuah.

The last time she saw him, Janna wasn’t ready to reciprocate his feelings for her. But things are different now. She’s finished high school, ready for college…and ready for Nuah.

It’s time for Janna’s (carefully planned) summer of love to begin—starting right at the wedding.

But it wouldn’t be a wedding if everything went according to plan. Muhammad’s party choices aren’t in line with his fiancée’s taste at all, Janna’s dad is acting strange, and her mom is spending more time with an old friend (and maybe love interest?) than Janna.

And Nuah’s treating her differently.

Just when things couldn’t get more complicated, two newcomers—the dreamy Haytham and brooding Layth—have Janna more confused than ever about what her misfit heart really wants.

Janna’s summer of love is turning out to be super crowded and painfully unpredictable.

This book was pure serotonin injected straight into my veins. I loved every second of this book, it was a celebration of being Muslim and love and marriage and family and friends. I don’t know if I will ever be able to write down coherently just how much this book means to me.

This book is set about 2 years after the events of Saints and Misfits and it’s the summer when Janna’s older brother, Muhammad and Sarah, are getting married. Their nikkah is taking place at their dad’s home in the garden overlooking the lake. Even the setting in the book is so beautiful and honestly I wish we could see the wedding happening because it must have looked amazing.

Janna is older and she has grown a lot over the two years. She had a lot of trauma to deal with and it was nice to see that she no longer blames herself for what happened to her and that monster was held accountable. In this book Janna goes through a great character growth from thinking her happiness will be with being with another person to realising she can be happy with just herself. It was so wonderful to see that message in the book because often girls are taught their happiness lies with being with someone else. But our happiness and self worth should be with being happy within ourselves. 

I also loved all the female friendships in this book and that Janna and Tats even discuss the Bechdel test. I especially loved the friendship and love between Sarah and Janna and how they became family and look out for each other. It was a big difference from a couple years ago where Janna called her saint Sarah! It was amazing to see so many female characters, each with their own distinct personalities and dreams and hopes. From Sausan who is a badass niqabi with her own youtube channel to Sarah getting her PhD to the new characters we meet in this book who come for the wedding.

Muhammad, is Janna’s older brother and is such a cinnamon roll, I loved him so much. The way he understood Janna at such a deep level to understanding her through a look on her face. But also being the annoying older brother and their banter was so great! However he had questionable choices in wedding décor and I cannot explain the absolute horror I felt at some of his choices. But it was also hilarious watching Sarah bring out her clipboards and rope Janna into sorting everything out in one weekend.

This book may seem like it’s a fluffy romance but it also deals with some really serious issues like the racism that exists in our community that Black people face. The microaggressions that they have to deal with but find it difficult to call them out for it. Nuah has to deal with this throughout the wedding and Janna has to have some very difficult discussions with her dad about this. There is also the racism between arabs and non arabs and how some arabs view those who aren’t, inferior and show that in the comments they make about how their traditions are more important and make Muhammad not feel welcome in the family at times. These are difficult but important discussions we need to have with the people in our lives if we see them do this, we can’t just ignore it.

I really loved Haytham and Layth too even though I was still rooting for Nuah. Haytham was just swoon worthy and Layth had so much depth to him. I really enjoyed seeing their stories play out and how they interacted with Janna.

This book was so wonderful in so many ways and I just loved reading every second of it. The ending was so wonderful and so perfect for Janna and the wedding was so beautiful and there’s so much more I want to say but I can’t because spoilers but this book made me laugh and me so emotional and please you all need to go read it!

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!

Booksish Discussions, Muslim Shelf Space

Authors I’m Grateful For

Growing up I never saw characters in books that looked like me and come from a similar culture so the last few years when we are finally getting these books, it has made me so incredibly excited and grateful to these authors who created these characters and fought for them to be published.

S.A. Chakraborty – It’s no surprise that Shannon is on this list. The Daevabad Trilogy are books that I love with all my heart and soul. I adore the story and the characters and I love that Shannon immersed us in the history too. I will forever be thankful that she gave me Alizayd, a practicing Muslim man who is driven by his religious beliefs, especially social justice. His journey to learning how best to bring justice for all to Daevabad was incredible to read. I felt so seen and I will always have a special place in my heart for these books and especially Ali.

Sabaa Tahir – The first time I saw a main character who was brown and the hero was Laia and Elias. It was an incredible moment for me and it was written by a Muslim woman. I loved these two so much because they were the first characters I saw who looked like me. I loved that the culture was woven into the story and discussions of colonisation was included in the story. It’s something I related a lot to.

S.K. Ali – Sajidah gave me Zayneb, an unapologetic Muslim teen who just wants to live her life but is angry because of all the injustice she faces because she chose to wear a headscarf and it marks her as Muslim. I related so much to her and I loved how she contrasted with Adam. I loved that we got a love story between two Muslim teens and it was all halal. I wish I had this book as a teen.

Hafsah Faisal – Hafsah gave me hope. A niqabi who published an incredible book and it was supported by so many. I saw her and I knew that those of us who are struggling to find our way to achieve our goals will get that boost because when do women in niqab get published by a mainstream publisher?!  

Yasmin Rahman – I sobbed after reading the first chapter of All the Things we Never Said because I felt so seen. The way Mehreen feels, how Islam is an important part of her life and she takes that into account when trying to work through her suicidal thoughts. It isn’t something that is discussed in the Muslim community and I hope that this book helps others. Yasmin also started the book with Bismillah and I just knew I would love it after reading that.

Is there any authors who you’re grateful to?

Book Recommendations, Muslim Shelf Space

Why You Should Read Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali

If you know me then you know that I love this book with my whole heart and I need you all to read it. So to give you more incentive than my incoherent screaming, here are some reasons why you should read this wonderful book.

Muslim Romance

This book has the most wonderful romance while also keeping it all halal! Sajidah was able to show that Muslim’s can fall in love and that it can be romantic but it can still be kept within the boundaries of what Islam teaches us about relationships between men and women. We see cute fluffy moments and that they still interact with each other and u was grinning so hard all the way through but especially by the end! It’s a nuance often lost to most people but seeing so wonderfully done in the book was so great to see. I felt so seen.

Sajidah also showed through how they handled being attracted to each other, the realities of Muslim youth, especially the in the west. That it’s okay to have feelings and be attracted to each other, Islam doesn’t stop these natural feelings but how we handle them is the important thing. This was such an important nuance to show in the book and I love how it was shown.

Muslim Rep

The Muslim rep in this book was so wonderful to see. We are shown practicing Muslims but we also see them live, they are complex and well developed, they have friends and hobbies and passions. We also see how people who are Muslim are treated and the Islamophobia they face but also that they are happy and living their lives. We see differences in even how some people are more visibly Muslim than others and how that affects them and how they are treated.

Most importantly we see Muslims who are happy and that they don’t feel oppressed by their religion. We see them embrace their religion an do their best to stay true to their faith. It was refreshing to see that. Not only that, but we see representation of Muslims who have converted to Islam and that come from different parts of the world. So much diversity and culture was so great to see in the story.

Multiple Sclerosis/Chronic Illness Rep

Adam has been recently diagnosed with MS when we first meet him and it causes him to re-evaluate his life and how this will affect him long term. The rep was done incredibly well and I felt so seen because I also have chronic health conditions. The way he feels and how he has to navigate so many unknowns and yet still wants to make the most of things. He still falls in love and is wholly accepted by her.

Islamophobia

One of the things that Zayneb has to deal with is having a teacher who is Islamophobic and how angry and upset it makes her. But also that her being visibly Muslim means she has to deal with that where ever she goes. She wears a hijab, she can’t hide that she is Muslim so it makes her a target. I related so much to Zayneb especially how it’s the “little” things that get to her like a woman saying she feels unsafe to sit next to her or her not being allowed to use the swimming pool because she chose to wear a swimming costume that covers her entire body instead of the standard swim suit that makes the white man feel okay. That she’s expected to put a white man’s feelings above hers. It was so real seeing that in a book and love how Sajidah wove it into the story as it’s something that so many of us have to deal with.

It also makes Zayneb turn to activism to channel her anger and pain into something positive so she can try to make things better and make people aware how these things affect Muslims. She is passionate and fiery and I loved that about her.

Friendship & Platonic Love

One of the things I loved seeing in the book was how despite this being a love story, friendships were still shown importance. Zayneb and Adam both have a group of friends who they intereact with just as much as  each other. Zayneb especially as she also interacts and spends time with Adam’s friends too. I loved seeing that friendship is shown to be important and how platonic love for your friends can make you just as happy and hurt you as much as romantic love. We need to see more romances where we see different types of love included in the story!

Finally, if you are an Avatar fan then you will be pleased to hear that there are several avatar references in the story!

This book has wonderful nuanced Muslim rep, incredibly real chronic illness rep, has a wonderful love story that will leave you with a serotonin boost.

Everyone go read this incredible book and also read Saints & Misfits so we can all scream about Misfits in Love which will be out next year complete with a big fat Muslim wedding and a cameo with Adam and Zayneb!

My review is here for Love From A to Z

I also wrote about why this book means so much to me.

Book Recommendations, Booksish Discussions, Muslim Shelf Space

Why Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali Means So Much To Me

I first read Love From A to Z last year and completely fell in love with the book and the characters. But I just want to share more about this wonderful book and why I love it so much.

PS. You can read my review here

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This book is a love story between two young Muslims who stay within the boundaries of Islamic etiquette and rulings on interacting with the opposite sex and this isn’t something we ever get to see in books. I have wanted to see this type of love story for so long.

“Maybe that’s what living is – recognising the Marvels and Oddities around you.”

I hope we get to see more of this because it is the story of me and my husband and yet there were people who made us feel like we betrayed our religious beliefs by choosing to marry each other. I was made to feel guilty and doubt my faith in Allah because how could I be a good Muslim and still have chosen to marry my husband myself. And on the other side I had people completely unable to understand how I could possibly marry someone I hadn’t dated or had an intimate relationship with him before marriage. Basically there was no right thing to do.

But if I had been able to read this book back then, I know it would have helped me. I would know that I have done nothing wrong and that would have helped me a lot. So I am so happy to see this book published because I am sure there are more stories like mine.

Zayneb is also one of my absolute favourite characters ever, I see myself in her in so many ways. Her anger at the Islamophobia she faces especially from those in a position of power and how she can’t do anything about it. Yet she remains unapologetically Muslim. She practices her faith openly and doesn’t care that people know she is Muslim. I wish I had her confidence when I was a teen. I wish I had been able to see characters that looked like me and shared the same beliefs as me as a teen and I am so glad that young people today will get to see themselves in books in ways I never could.

“I didn’t have to open my mouth or do anything for people to judge me. I just had to be born into a Muslim family and grow up to want to become a visible member of my community by wrapping a cloth on my head.”

Zayneb just wants to be able to practice her faith freely and also be able to be your average teenage girl and go swimming and hang out with her friends. Yet she finds barriers to even doing something as simple as swimming because some people find it unacceptable for her to be fully covered while in the pool despite adhering to the policies there. She can obviously choose what to wear but only as long as it is acceptable to those people.

And then we have Adam who I love so much because I related to him so much, because he found out about his diagnosis of multiple sclerosis during college and I also was finally diagnosed with my chronic health issues just as I graduated university. He struggles at first with adjusting to his new reality and how his life will be so different now and what he may or may not be able to do now and I related so much with all of this. I felt all of this and still do at times.

I absolutely loved seeing such a well rounded character with such great and realistic disability and chronic illness rep. I understood why he felt he should leave college, I understood his misgivings about telling Zayneb how he felt about her because it would not be a “typical” marriage as they would both be affected by his chronic illness. I went through all of this, I still feel a lot of these and struggle with it. I also loved how his faith impacted the way he dealt with his chronic illness. The way that Sajdah captures all of this and more while still making this a love story is exceptional.

“Hope – she was giving me hope. She was trying to light the way forward with hope. Amazing. To think I’d not been alone.”

Their story is a love story but not like the usual love stories we read in books but it doesn’t make it any less of a love story. The way they interact with each other and how they spend time and speak to each other, they develop feelings for each other but they both also keep in mind their faith and it filled my heart with such joy. I remember going through this exact thing myself and even when others told me to date because how can I marry someone I hadn’t dated or been intimate with I knew I could never compromise on my religious beliefs and it kept me going. I remember feeling all the emotions and just like Zayneb I remember seeing my now husband and first thinking, he’s cute and that he’s tall (my husband is 6 ft 3″). And my husband told me the first thing he noticed about me was my hijab as I was the only one in our university class who wore one.

This book captures so many important parts of my life and I could relate so much to the characters in so many ways from them slowly developing feelings for each other yet also practicing their faith and also dealing with their own issues while navigating their feelings. I absolutely fell in love with this book and Adam and Zayneb. And also, while I saw myself in Zayneb, I also saw my husband in Adam (minus the chronic illness) and it felt like this book was written for me.