Title: Saints and Misfits
Author: S.K. Ali
Publisher: Salaam Reads / Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: June 13th 2017
S.K. Ali’s Saints and Misfits follows fifteen-year-old Janna as she deals with the aftermath of being sexually assaulted. Janna’s dealing with her first crush on a non-Muslim, navigating a world that isn’t always accepting of a hijabi, and doing her best to find a way to be herself when this huge, traumatic thing is weighing down on her shoulders. Keeping this secret isn’t easy and with her older brother moving back home, forcing her to share a room with her mother, her life grows even more stressful. The end of the year is fast approaching and while final exams should be the only thing she’s stressing about, Janna is juggling her parents’ expectations and being pulled in different directions by her friends. The guilt she’s been carrying around for something that isn’t her fault is slowly chipping away at her, and it isn’t easy to let that guilt go when the person who attempted to rape her walks around like nothing happened.
Ali does a masterful job of dealing with heavy issues in her novel, but also being very aware of who her character is at only fifteen. Janna is an easy character to related to and like. She has a subtle sense of humor that I appreciated and I more than once snorted aloud while reading. There is a constant stream of voices whispering to her what they think and in the midst of all that noise, Janna is just trying to figure out what’s right for her. This isn’t always easy when contrary opinions are coming from people she loves. Janna doesn’t want to disappoint anyone, but it’s what inevitably happens, especially when her divorced parents hold such differing views of her faith and how she chooses to express it. I loved the strong sense of community Janna’s faith provided. She’s very involved with her local mosque which is lead by her uncle. Everyone is very caring and supportive and they felt like an extension of her own family. But for Janna, this puts her in an impossible situation because the person who assaulted her is a valuable member of this community. She’s got that doubt in the back of her mind that if she does speak up, not everyone is going to believe her. Every compliment directed at her assaulter, every time someone tries to talk him up to her is like a knife to the gut. This coupled with her inability to avoid him completely makes the book utterly heartbreaking to read at times.
I empathized with Janna so much when she felt she couldn’t open up to Tats, one of her non-Muslim friends, because of the added pressure of being from a marginalized community. She knows that anything she says negatively about someone in her community can be attributed to everyone. The outside world does not judge you as individuals, but as a group. I loved Janna’s relationship with her brother Muhammad because it felt so authentic. Getting on each other’s nerves, feeling loyal to one parent over the other and having this cause division between the two felt very real. There’s a little resentment when it comes to which parent is playing favorites with whom as well. I loved what Ali did with the romance portion of Janna’s story. I felt her butterflies and anxiousness when it came to her crush, but ultimately appreciated the more subtle development of Janna’ relationship with someone else. It was unexpected and yet felt so right. I loved the pacing of this relationship and how it was rooted in respect and I kind of wish we got a glimpse of what comes of it down the line.
S.K. Ali’s debut Saints and Misfits will make you laugh and cry, it will make you angry and happy, and at the end of the day, you’ll be forever grateful you read it.