Saints and Misfits by S K Ali
June 13th 2017
Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
The book I am reviewing today is Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali. I received the ARC when I was at the OLA Super Conference from Simon and Schuster Canada when they were promoting there imprints Saleem Reads. Saleem Reads are to introduce all backgrounds of families who are Muslims and represent them in books. I am really into it. I want to thank Simon and Schuster Canada for giving me the book. I am going not going to give any spoilers to the novel since the book doesn't come out until June 13 2017 - which is very soon!
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?
* Please note that the ARC was given to me by Simon and Schuster Canada & Saleem Reads. All thoughts and opinions are my own.*
Story time - I met S K Ali
I want to say that getting this book was meant to happen. I was getting ready to leave a conference ( Ontario Library Association Super Conference)I was at since I had overloaded with enough books and promise myself not to get anymore (What LIES) and my friends stopped at the Simon and Schuster Canada table since there was not a big line up. I stood near the edge just to watch my friends grab last minute books they were handing out. I was zoning out, when all sudden one of the representative smiled at me and said " Oh you the first person in line for S. K. ALi Signing! Yeah!" Of course, I was at a blank for having no idea what was happening. Then I notice the small table and sign that indeed a signing. More Books! I had never heard of S. K. Ali and at this I wanted to break out in sweat, trying to recall from my list who she was. Then appeared S. K. Ali - pausing - S. K. Ali is truly a goddess in real life, utterly beautiful and sweet -Then she started signing my book, telling me she was nervous and I asked why. She answered that I was her first person to sign her ARC. Stop. The. Bus. I was speechless! I was feeling so bubbly and couldn’t wait to read her book. I am really grateful for meeting S. K. Ali and extremely pleased for Saints and Misfits to be released.
Saints & Misfits was breath-taking, astounding and tear-jerking. If you have a heart and brain and need oxygen to breathe, this is the book for you. Once I was reading, I did not put it down until I finished the last page. This is the first book I've read in which the protangist is a young Muslim woman. I have the most respect for Janna and readers who relate to Janna. I felt this book knew me better than myself which is freaky. I even cried. Big fat ugly tears. I thought this would be a light, fluffy YA contemporary novel. No. It was different and I loved every second of it. Each chapter title is " Saints", "Misfits", and "Monsters". I love Janna's best friends, Nuah, and cousins that come into her life, the emails from her father are clever and amusing. Janna carries a burden that she cannot speak about because if she does she feels no one will believe her. She feels ashamed. She feels a barrier that she has to carried on her shoulders as the monster watches from afar and making sure she is following the rules to be respectable and content. Janna a voice in the YA community that people need to hear - whether you are Muslim or not. This book has heavy topics such as sexual assault, divorce, bullying, victim-blaming, social media, intercultural relationships, death, and more.
I know for sure this book is going to be memorable. This book is not for one group of readers, it’s for everyone.
Janna is a tenth grader that is part Egyptian and Indian and wears a hijab. She is a young woman who admires Flannery O'Connor - " Flannery would take me away from here and deposit me into her fictitious world crawling with self-righteous saints and larger-than-life misfits”, an aspiring photographer, and artist, loves her friends and family. She is driven into her academics and works part-time on wheeling a wise gentleman to a centre named Seniors Game Club and works on her uncle's " Amu" website who is the prayer leader at the Mosque, editing questions from the community. She a teenager who deals with being a teen; playing the part of society that people want to see, the pressure of her faith and friends, the yearn of having a crush on a non Muslim. When she is attemptedly raped by the good man Fraroop - the monster- and must hide behind his shadow. She begins to isolate herself. She begins to battle whether to keep it to herself as he continues to stalks her to keep her in line or at the risk of telling the truth. This internal conflict that teens must deal in their lifetime when they shouldn’t have to. There something about Janna that she had this pure essence about her, how while she is young and naive, yet she is intelligent and has an inner flame, an inner strength that’s needs to be ignite. The author created Janna to be relatable and likeable.
I was absorbed when I read the perspectives of Islam faith. Saints and Misfits is not beating you over the head or preaching you to do anything. I know faith is a very sensitive subject and everyone has their own values and views. Just hear me out. I never grew up with the population of Muslims in my community. I think there were at least six people who I have met in my entire life told me they were Muslim. that was it. In school, there was no education on the cultures and beliefs, traditions and etiquettes. I felt stupid to be honest reading Saints and Misfits and was bewilder of the core of their cultural practices. I was quite baffled with myself on struggling with their beliefs and attitudes. I knew nothing from my education background. I never was taught what the wearing a hjab really meant, or what Quar mean't or their everyday customs. I thought this book has open me up to something more. Hearing Janna voice and reading the details about the normal activities going on through her daily life and how faith plays into it felt like eye opening for me. As someone who is non-Muslim I felt content and really value the information about reading Jana customs and values; how raw and vulnerable at times when she had to identify herself. I just really value the faith portion of Saints and Misfits, it was enlightening, and informative as a reader.
My favourite quote:
" Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
where tireless striving stretches its arms toward perfection;
where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of death habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action -
Into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake. "
3. Brother (Muhammad)
How do I talk about Muhammad without spoiling all the details about him? He just a humble, sentiment, a fresh breath of air. A real saint. He not typical brooding brother ready to set the house on fire vibes. He quite the opposite. I adore him. There are too many good moments where I just want to squeeze him and laugh boastfully. Instead of going of school for economics, he decides to pursue philosophy. I admire the relationship between Janna and Muhammad. I want to cherish Muhammad in my pocket. I love how authentic and realistic it was. I am always seeing the same brother -hate-sister relationship or that the other think the other is a lair. They were just comfortable with each other and had the brother-sister bond. The bicker between the two is just amusing and brings back all the moments when I fight with my brothers. My favourite scenes were always when Janna went on the dates with Perfect Sarah with him. He was just adorable and kind. Gahh, I want to gush to the world about him and Perfect Sarah.
4. The Monster
" He's standing in my only path of escape. He comes straight toward me. No words, nothing. I make a sound like a mix of please and no and help."
The Monster. How to begin to describe him. He respectable, charming, studious, and pious. He respects toward friends, family and the community. I feel that he had a sense that whatever he does, he can get away with it. He's holy. He is always monitoring Janna. He trying to get in her head, being cruel and insensitive to her. He always causing more problems for her. He such a creep from following her to watching videos of her and taking videos of her! I think he is a sick, brute and hope that justice is served for what he is doing to Janna. No one should hold any power over someone. He pretends to put on this goody show in front of everyone while he is pushing young girls into the corner to feel worthless, powerless and weak. His presence even if he not in front of Janna, is everywhere and overwhelming.
5. Mr. Ram
Mr.Ram nodded. " Yes, Miss Janna. Because when we just do things without a why, we become husks.Easily crumpled, no fruit inside."
Mr. Ram is older gentleman that Janna, every Thursday after school would wheel him to the community centre for Seniors Game Club. Mr. Ram is my second favourite character in the book. He very wise, sweet and kind to Janna and has a great fashion taste. I love his corn husk metaphors. He is someone who justify's the world, or explains why the world is grey and dim. He is just a lovely man and I cannot wait for readers to indulge in wise words. His voice is very important to the book.
I hope you like my five reasons why you should read Saints and Misfits! I honestly adore and love this book. I think this is one of my most YA voices. I just want to sit down in a chic cafe drinking lattes and delicious cupcakes and talk to Janna.
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I just pledged for the #SACREDPLEDGE and #RESISTRACISM where I want to spread and reach out to others about being kind, respectable and thoughtful to everyone. Be treated the way you want to be treated. I want to be more self-aware and seek knowledge and opportunity to the Muslim community and everyone around the world to more be welcome, equal and safe and treat everyone with kindness.
* ALL photos were taken by Maddi Clark, 2017*