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!

Books by Muslim Authors, Diverse Books, Muslim Shelf Space, YA Books

Love From A To Z by S.K. Ali – Book Review

Having read Saints and Misfits and loving it, I knew I had to read this book as soon as it was announced! And this book is the love story I have been wanting to read my whole life! I read this book in June and I’m still thinking about it! Look you all need to go read this book!

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Rating: 5/5

Synopsis from Goodreads:

A marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes—because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.
An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.
But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.
When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break.
Fuelled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.
Then her path crosses with Adam’s.
Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister.
Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.
Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals.
Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…
Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.
Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting

Before I even start talking about the book I just need to take a moment and fangirl about the fact there is a hijabi on the cover! Being able to see a young girl in a hijab on the cover will never stop making me super excited and happy. I finally have the rep I never knew I needed to see.

So about the story, look this book will send you on a whirlwind of emotions. You will feel giddy, happy, sad, frustrated, angry and everything in between. S.K. Ali has written such wonderful complex characters, they are so layered and so real. One of the things I realised as I was reading this is that Zaineb and Adam reminded me of me and my husband. The similarities in our personalities and how we are and how we eventually got married was uncanny! So this book hit me on a different level honestly.

This book is a love story but that’s not the only thing that happens in the story. Both Zaineb and Adam are dealing with their own difficulties in their own lives when they meet. They both live full, complex lives outside of each other and I loved seeing that! I loved that their story was more than them just falling in love, because real life isn’t like that.

Zayneb is so relatable! She is passionate and outspoken but is also angry (rightfully so) but she lets that dictate how she expresses herself. Her character arc is so wonderful to read, she learns a lot about herself and Adam shows her a different view in life. She also has such a wonderful group friends. I loved reading her scenes when she spoke to her friends. It was so relatable and funny. While they love and care and support each other, they can still make mistakes and hurt each other. But they apologise and try to fix their mistakes. Zaineb at one point feels jealous but it doesn’t end in her or the others being petty to each other. She deals with it maturely and just I loved seeing that. More great female friendships in books please!

“Like, I’m a person who feels things strongly. And I don’t know how to deal with my feelings. The way society tells me to. Which is mostly to ignore them.”

She has to deal with Islamophobia that occurs in her school by her teacher and being discriminated against at the pool and white privilege. These are things that a lot of Muslims face, especially if you are visibly Muslim, like Zaineb is. She has to listen to her teacher fill the class with hatred towards Muslim’s and it makes her angry, she has to deal with the white people who think it’s okay to demand she wears a swimming costume and not a burkini, despite the burkini meeting the requirements for using the pool. Something we see time and time again, other people trying to control how Muslim women dress, while silencing these women’s voices. It all felt so real, they were situations which were similar to ones I had to deal with and I know many others will be able to relate too.

“What riles me is that people think Islamophobia is these little or big acts of violence. Someone getting their hijab ripped off, someone’s business getting vandalised, someone getting hurt, or yes, even killed.
No, there’s the other kind too, and it’s a more prevalent kind: the slow steady barrage of tiny acts of prejudice, these your-people-are-trash lightsabre cuts that tear and peel strips off your soul until you can’t feel your numbed heart any longer.”

She described how I’ve felt for so long but was never able to express. And it felt so good to see that written there because I am not alone.

Okay so I’ve been talking about Zaineb for a while now so I’m going to talk about Adam now. He is a cinnamon roll okay. He is king and thoughtful and while Zaineb is loud, he is quiet and someone who has learnt pretty early on how to truly listen to others. He cares deeply for his family and despite going through so much he is always there for his little sister. I really loved his relationship with his sister. I completely fell in love with Adam.

Adam has just found that he has Multiple Sclerosis and the diagnosis scares him and makes him re-evaluate what he wants to do in life. Having a long-term health condition myself, I really related to how he struggled through his diagnosis and managing it. And he did a lot better than I did when I found out. This is a big part of his story arc and I really loved how it was shown.

The second half of the book had me on the edge of my seat and grinning like a fool. I loved how they were able to speak to each other and learn about each other and realise that actually they like each other and want to marry each other but within the boundaries of Islam. Which is how a lot of us meet our spouses so it was really nice to see that.

“‘Astaghfirullah. I thought we were following the rules. You should be telling me to lower my gaze, brother,’ she said, shaking her finger at me, a smile on her face. ‘And where’s your dad? If my sister, Sadia, were here, she’d say we weren’t following the rules.'”

I think it’s safe to say that I absolutely adored this book and you should all go read it! Not only does it have the cutest love story ever but it also shows a nuanced and complex Muslim identity and that not every Muslim is the exact same.