- Page Count: 352
- Release Date: June 13, 2017
- My Rating: 5 stars
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?
If you’re only planning on reading a few YA contemporaries this year, definitely make this one of them!
“Why we do an action is what determines its quality.”
Janna is a hijabi teen who’s trying to deal with an attempted rape by Farooq, a guy who’s memorized the Quran and has a well-respected pious image. Farooq is referred to as “the monster” for a good part of the book as he continues to stalk Janna, monitor her actions with a non-Muslim boy, and generally harass her with his presence. Janna is worried people would never believe her, so she’s left to carry the shame on her own while wondering “how do you wash off what cannot be seen.” (All of her thoughts on this topic were super relatable, but might be triggering for some readers. So I just wanted to throw that out there… it’s handled very well, though, and makes the story really powerful).
Janna loves Flannery O’Connor because “she’s a kick-ass monster killer, wreaking justice on her pages. And who gets handed the worst of it in a Flannery world? Monsters hiding behind saint masks.” Janna faces a lot of difficult situations throughout the book, like if she should stop wearing her hijab for peer pressure or what she should do when there’s a picture posted on Facebook of her in gym with her hair showing.
My favorite scenes in contemporaries are often the “filler” moments where people are just going about ordinary tasks or there’s a description of some men playing cards in the corner. This book captures the humanity in realistic daily activities SO well! I loved the elderly man Janna cares for and his insights on life. This story weaves a lot of Rumi and general wisdom into its plot, especially via the advice column that Janna helps edit for her mosque. I learned a lot through that format, actually.
I think the strongest part of this book is the mix of characters because everyone brings something unique to the story. And that kind of reflects the running theme of WHY we do something… every single character has a clear purpose and carries the story forward.
Janna’s Indian father and Egyptian mother are divorced and in different financial situations, so part of the story also addresses that. But my favorite characters are the adorable brother Muhammad, “Saint Sarah” who organizes the Fun Fun Fun Islamic Quiz Game, and Sausun, who definitely needs her own companion novel. She runs a “Niqabi Ninjas” YouTube show, is a “walking candy store,” and is just a fiercely strong & hilarious woman while helping with the Farooq problem. Basically, I kind of fell in love with the entire cast of characters.
This is one of those books that highlights SO many important things while never feeling like it’s beating you over the head with any particular message. Janna’s character growth was really inspirational and believable. Also, the book doesn’t have that “younger” YA tone (which I know adults sometimes ask about), so it’s totally a book any age can enjoy. It’s a really engrossing story I didn’t want to end!
Thank you to the publisher for sending me an ARC.