Saints and Misfits Book Review

A heartwarming way to learn that different is beautiful.


Author: S. K. Ali
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication date: June 13th, 2017
Format: ARC 
My rating: 4/5
Buy it: | |


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?

The Cover:

How do I express how accurate the cover represents today’s female muslims. I love seeing things that directly correlate with something I’m seeing in a day to day experience.

The title’s font is simple, and the basic font most contemporary novels use. Which is cute nonetheless. I’m going to assume that the girl in the cover is Janna, and I’m thrilled if it is, because I really wanted a good mental image of her and now I have this. Btw, I love her scarf style, might start learning how to do it soon.

I love that the camera sort of hides her eyes, and the lens is what she uses to see the world in. Which is extremely typical of today’s generation, even for young muslims. I live in a time where your life on the internet is how people know what’s going on with you. Your value is based on the likes you get, or the type of comments you receive, all of which hinge on the type of photo you post. It’s not lacking to say that Janna loves photography, and it was interesting to see her favourite hobby being used against her throughout the story. So its a beautiful cover, and I really liked that Ms. Ali made sure a Muslimah was on the cover for the world to know who the story was going to be about.

The Story:

What did I think of the story? Where do I even begin? It was a beautifully written story that captures every thought and process a young Muslim girl goes through in America. Granted, I live in Canada, but my experiences (I’m 100% sure) are not that different for a Muslim sister in the States.

When you’re Arab or Asian or of African decent, and you’re a muslim, and you’re a female living in the states, it kind of feels like the odds are stacked against you. It’s either racial degradation, being called “terrorist”, or the worst of it: being stared at like you‘re wearing the costume from the movie Alien. I could understand every aspect of Janna’s insecurities and what she wanted in life. It’s not easy having a white-boy love (that’s what we minorities like to call our forbidden loves). It just doesn’t look good for us in the Muslim community when you’re crushing over a non-Muslim.

I’m sorry if this is going to sound harsh, but Janna’s story is not rare. Hopefully this doesn’t come off offensive to any non-minorities, but white people aren’t the only ones that get molested or raped by friends or family members in their community. You don’t hear about it from the Arab or Asian Muslims because you just don’t. A lot of Muslims have it twisted that culture and religion are one and should be perfect, therefore these sort of abuses are not dealt with because in a perfect world Muslims wouldn’t behave this way. Remember when I said the odds are stacked against us in a particular society? Yeah.

I’m not saying all Muslims behave this way, it would be ignorant to lead you all to think that, we have our Saints. Yet the many that are monsters excuse this sort of behaviour. Ms. Ali shows you the proper way to deal with an injustice like this when you meet Amu, Janna’s uncle who is an Imam in the mosque.

Janna’s story is extremely important for victims of these sort of assaults. How important it is to stay strong and loving to yourself. How unfair the world can be, only if we choose to let it be that way. Why its okay to be young and stupid too, because one day you’ll eventually grow up and realize how petty some things are, like depending on crushes to make you feel important.

I loved Janna’s character, and the many others as well. Like when she finds out that a boy thinks she’s beautiful, so she starts to feel beautiful? My god, my heart just crushed at that part. Like its really difficult to summon high self-esteem for yourself out of nowhere. Janna even says something along the lines of “what’s wrong with being weak?” And I almost toppled over! Like some of the rhetorical questions Ms. Ali asked in the book kind of made me think and question myself. You have to go through a lot of crap in life in order to reach a point where you can love yourself fully.

The world is full of perspectives, different philosophies, is it so hard for us to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and see it through their lens for once? We don’t have to agree, but it wouldn’t hurt to understand.

I definitely saw the Saints that Janna had looked through and completely missed. When you’re a teen, the people who want the best for you seem like your enemies. Like how vegetables were evil when you were six, but contained so many benefits for your body. Its normal to feel that way as a teen, its relatable I’m sure to any teen of any background growing up in the West. You feel like the world evolves around you, and you’re the only one suffering and no one else will ever understand you. Until one day the world slaps you hard with some truth, and you realize we’re all going through life the same. We all get that slap eventually, and it forces us to lower our heads and be more humble. Some more than others, *cough*Donald*cough*Trump*cough*.

I’m not really sorry if this got racial or political. This book, to me, is so important, and it should be to all of us. At the end of the day, these are truths, these are real struggles we should be aware and considerate of. Its nice to finally see some diverse representation in the book world. Where Muslims aren’t the stereotypical Arabs shouting “allahuakbar” at innocent white people. It was nice to see how in reality we live collectively in America. Yes, we’re friends with white people, and we have barbecues together too, and we go to school with them, and they sometimes join us at our events in the mosque. Hell, we even have white Muslims, it’s not that uncommon. We’re just… people. Ms. Ali’s story basically broke down those ‘walls’ of “we can’t live together because we’re different”. Actually, we can, and we have, Fox News just says Muslims hate everyone because nobody likes Fox News.

The most important of all, the Muslim community received an extremely important critique. Something I’ve been brewing in my mind for quite some time. Be understanding of your fellow muslims. Don’t put anyone on a pedestal because they’ve memorized the Qur’an. In Islam, one of the rules for good deeds is that none of them count if you don’t pray you’re obligatory five prayers. For those who spread rumours and gossip or look down upon a struggling muslim brother or sister, be humble and reassess your priorities. The Prophet Mohammed pbuh would never think that way towards his sahabah (companions). At the end of the day, God is the judge, so keep your nose out of people’s relationship with Him and concentrate on your own. The only thing you should be doing is helping each other up, not down.

I very much enjoyed Mohammed, Janna’s older brother. Soooooooooooo relatable. I have three brothers and I’m the youngest in the family. So I went through that cycle Janna went through with Mohammed three times. So I totally get it. #olderbrotherdrama

I love how Ms. Ali gave some of the ‘social outcast’ characters human characteristics. Like breaking down the niqab. Which is a hijab from head to toe. She gave it so much power, which I never thought to give it before, and put a different lens on it. Like how much power there is in only letting people see a woman’s eyes instead of her whole face, and how much power there is in privacy. Like it forces you to see the most dangerous part of a human being, the eyes, which are practically windows to something vast and complex.

To all my niqabi sisters out there! Do your thing! All the power to you!

To my hijabi sisters, stay true to your deen (faith) and yourself. America is a tossed salad, not a melting pot.

To victims of abuse, sexual assault, or any sort of pain inflicted on you that you didn’t deserve. Stay strong. Do not give your abusers power. They do not control your life. If you feel shame, it does not belong to you, and you should not carry it.

“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.”

– Khalil Gibran

Note to author if she reads this:

To S.K. Ali:

Thank you for a such a beautifully written story. An amazing perspective into an American Muslim-Teen’s life, and how beautiful it is to be different.

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