Rummanah Aasi
Description: There are three kinds of people in my world:

1. Saints, those special people moving the world forward. Sometimes you glaze over them. Or, at least, I do. They’re in your face so much, you can’t see them, like how you can’t see your nose.

2. Misfits, people who don’t belong. Like me—the way I don’t fit into Dad’s brand-new family or in the leftover one composed of Mom and my older brother, Mama’s-Boy-Muhammad. Also, there’s Jeremy and me. Misfits. Because although, alliteratively speaking, Janna and Jeremy sound good together, we don’t go together. Same planet, different worlds. But sometimes worlds collide and beautiful things happen, right?

3. Monsters. Well, monsters wearing saint masks, like in Flannery O’Connor’s stories. Like the monster at my mosque. People think he’s holy, untouchable, but nobody has seen under the mask. Except me.

Review: S.K. Ali's debut novel, Saints and Misfits, is a welcoming addition to the growing and much needed collection of books written about and written by Muslim authors. In a smartly written novel Ali has been able to tap into universal themes and portray the various representation of faith and Muslim representation without being didactic.
  Janna Yusuf is an extremely smart Indian Arab American Muslim teen who, like all teens, is looking for a place to belong. She is caught between her Muslim faith and the parts of her life that clash with it. Janna identifies herself as a misfit and does not fit into the cookie cutter mold of a "saintly" Muslim teen. Her parents are divorced, a culture faux pas that many people do not discuss. While a practicing Muslim herself, her father is a secular business man who has since remarried and sends out motivational quotes in his newsletter. Her love life is complicated considering she has a crush on a non-Muslim boy named Jeremy who she can not date because of her religion though her crush might not be unrequited, but above all Janna's biggest obstacle is facing the monster: a "pious" boy from a respectable family and from her mosque who attempts to sexually assault her during a party.
   The different categories of people that Janna identifies throughout the story, with the exception of the monster, shift and change as Janna's preconceptions are constantly challenged. Janna's internal push and pull observations gives readers unfamiliar with Islam a deep understanding of Muslim practices, the wide range of how people observe or don't observe Islam as well as the representation of women who wear the hijab without limiting or changing the focus of the story. Teens will easily look past their superficial differences with Janna and instead will connect with her not fitting in, dealing with frustrations of rape culture, the difficulty of trusting others and truly connecting with others, and most of all finding the courage to speak out.
  Janna is a keen observer and all of her thoughts on the world and those around her are filtered through her lens. I loved the use of Janna's hobby of a photographer as a running conceit in the story. I also greatly appreciated that the author does not use stereotypes in her book but rather exposes not only their flaws, but also the flaws of the Muslim culture. Janna creates a strong support system with both Muslim and non-Muslim friends. I also adored her friendship with an elderly Indian man who shows her own shortcomings and the advice column that her uncle and imam has for her mosque that gives the reader a peek into what's like to be a Muslim teen. Saints and Misfits is another solid book published by Salaam Reads that illustrates a girl's attempt to find her place in a complicated world.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, a party where there is underage drinking, and a scene of attempted sexual assault in the book. Recommended for Grade 9 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah, and for a book that has similar themes minus religious elements try What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen
1 Response
  1. This sounds like a good one for teens and you and I are on the same page when it comes to enjoying books that will further the reader's knowledge and understanding of Muslims. It's about time.


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