Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali came out this week and is totally one of my new all-time favorite YA contemporaries (see my review). I cannot stop shoving this book at everyone who asks for a recommendation, so just in case you haven’t heard… READ IT. IT’S SO WONDERFUL. Thank you to S.K. Ali for stopping by my blog to share some of her thoughts on her new book!
About the Author
S.K. Ali is a teacher based in Toronto whose writing on Muslim culture and life has appeared in the Toronto Star. Her family of Muslim scholars is consistently listed in the The 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World, and her insight into Muslim culture is both personal and far-reaching. A mother of a teenage daughter herself, S.K. Ali’s debut YA novel is a beautiful and nuanced story about a young woman exploring her identity through friendship, family, and faith.
About the Book
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?
1) Can you summarize Saints and Misfits in 3 words?
Light, Dark, Deep
2) What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love ART – being around it, making it, breathing it in. And when I say making it, I mean all kinds of making it – including painting, sewing, collaging, just using my hands. It’s the way I de-stress.
3) Which scene in Saints and Misfits was the most fun to write?
I loved writing the scene where Janna goes to meet Sarah at the café called Soliloquy’s* so they can eat cupcakes and talk. It failed the bechdel test in that they did talk about a guy (Malcolm) but I think because they went beyond him and got into Sarah’s purpose-of-life, it should gain some points. Plus, there’s a girl with blue hair and a cupcake mustache in a yellow chair in that scene…that’s art to me so I loved writing it!
*The cafe is based on one I went to when I lived in the Middle East for a year. Here’s a pic:
4) What was the biggest challenge you faced in getting your story published?
The biggest challenge was me. I’m kind of a perfectionist and I kept sitting on my book because I felt like there was a lot to fix. And so I fixed and fiddled and I wouldn’t let myself query because I had so many doubts about its worthiness. So when I did query and had so much agent interest in the span of two weeks, I was shocked to my core. Still am. Still see the flaws.
5) What are some of your top book recommendations?
Because I’m really concerned about the lack of Muslim voices in publishing, I’d like to suggest #MuslimShelfSpace titles (books by Muslim authors, with overt Muslim content/characters): Alif the Unseen, The Butterfly Mosque and the Ms. Marvel series by G. Willow Wilson, Wanting Mor by Rukhsana Khan, The Inspector Khattak and Rachel Getty series by Ausma Zehanat Khan, Laughing All the Way to the Mosque by Zarqa Nawaz, Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed, Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan, The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi, That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim and Love, InshAllah edited by Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi. There are so many more of course!
New titles are slated to come out this year and in the next few years so keep an eye out! Also, check out the hashtag #MuslimShelfSpace for more suggestions. Goodreads has lists as well.
6) Who would you cast in the movie version of your book?
Oooh, love this question!
- Nuah: Alfred Enoch
- Tats: Hailee Steinfeld
- Muhammad: Rami Malek
- Janna: Shay Mitchell in hijab for many scenes of course!
- Jeremy: Dylan O’Brien
- Saint Sarah: Noor Tagouri
7) Any advice to beginning authors?
Connect with other writers and book lovers. Shaping a book doesn’t have to be a solitary task; talking about craft, reading and critiquing, checking in with each other about writing goals, recommending and gushing about books – these are all parts of being an author. I couldn’t have written Saints and Misfits without the support of writer friends, online and irl.
And a second piece of advice: learn how other writers write. There are a variety of processes and ways to craft and it’s only when you try out several methods that you find your way. (Mine ended up being a mix of inspiration-based writing aka pantsing and macro-outlining, along with lots of visuals like photographs, sketches etc.)
Thanks for sharing and congratulations on Saints and Misfits!
Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Cait! It was so much fun!
You can add this book on Goodreads or buy it on Amazon.