Janna Yusuf is so excited for the weekend: her brother Muhammad’s getting married, and she’s reuniting with her mom, whom she’s missed the whole summer.
And Nuah’s arriving for the weekend too. Sweet, constant Nuah. The last time she saw him, Janna wasn’t ready to reciprocate his feelings for her. But things are different now. She’s finished high school, ready for college...and ready for Nuah. It’s time for Janna’s (carefully planned) summer of love to begin—starting right at the wedding.
But it wouldn’t be a wedding if everything went according to plan. Muhammad’s party choices aren’t in line with his fiancée’s taste at all, Janna’s dad is acting strange, and her mom is spending more time with an old friend (and maybe love interest?) than Janna. And Nuah’s treating her differently.
Just when things couldn’t get more complicated, two newcomers—the dreamy Haytham and brooding Layth—have Janna more confused than ever about what her misfit heart really wants. Janna’s summer of love is turning out to be super crowded and painfully unpredictable.
|Publisher:||Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers|
|Series:||Saints and Misfits|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)|
|Lexile:||HL770L (what's this?)|
|Age Range:||14 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I’m in the water. Floating on my back, staring at the bluest sky there must have ever been in the history of blue skies.
My burkini, almost all four yards of it, swells up around me and serves as a flotation device. I’m buoyed, but—secret smile—it’s not only because of the burkini.
Nuah’s coming tomorrow—for the entire weekend.
And I have a plan.
Now that I’m finished with school and will be starting college in the fall, I’m ready to actually tell Nuah that... that... well, I guess, that we can be a thing? I don’t know what else to call it when you say yes, I like you back to someone like Nuah, who’s interested in me, but also interested in following Islam.
Which means there are rules—but the rules will still lead to us being together.
I spread my arms out in the lake and let my secret smile take over my face, remembering the words of the scholar and spiritual poet Rumi.
“Rumi said, ‘Only from the heart can you touch the sky,’” I tell the sky, my eyes probing the blue expanse, my left hand pulling up my burkini pants, which are beginning to ride low again, their waistline weathered from overuse. “And I believe him.”
“Janna, are you talking to yourself again?”
I don’t need to lift my head to know that it’s my brother Muhammad. And that he’s on the dock, throwing our two little half brothers into the lake, one by one, each time they scramble back onto the dock in turn saying, “Again!”
He’s giddy, my big brother.
In exactly two days he’s getting married to the love of his life, Sarah. And it’s all happening on the grounds of this lakeside estate house right here that Dad bought and renovated last summer in grand fashion.
I mean, there’s even a perfect white gazebo by the water. Dad had wanted it to be his wife Linda’s “sanctuary” space—with white couches and some kind of tulle hanging off the entire structure, doing double duty as a practical mosquito net and an ethereal fantasy thing.
But Linda is more of a chasing-after-the-kids-in-her-leggings person, so the gazebo is a neglected thing of beauty, lying in wait for its moment to shine.
That moment began a week ago when white-overalled workers descended on the gazebo to perk it up. Remove the couches, dismantle the net, give it a fresh coat of paint, fix the trellis roof.
This weekend everyone Muhammad knows, and I mean everyone, is driving up either three hours from Eastspring, our hometown, or an hour down from Chicago to see Muhammad and Sarah’s relationship get solemnized in that gleaming white gazebo.
It’s THE wedding of the Muslim community round these parts.
Wedding preparations have been going on for weeks now, led by Dad and Muhammad, as Sarah is scrambling to finish a master’s degree and her family is throwing an official reception of their own next year.
But this event here by the lake is going to be a monstrous affair, and it’s kind of unnerving. I can’t even move around Dad’s place without bumping into strangers measuring distances or erecting beams or looking me up and down as I flop around in my (signature) ripped, faded, slouchy clothes.
Big Fat Muslim Wedding is on everyone’s lips. Like three-hundred-guests big—which is huge for being a private wedding in Dad’s backyard.
Muhammad and Sarah are even letting me invite some of my friends, plus their plus-ones.
One of them is Nuah.
Who, being friends with Muhammad, is coming up to help him out prewedding.
Floating in the lake, I hitch up my burkini pants again, do a flutter kick to keep from sinking while doing so, and smile bigger at the sky above as I think about Nuah all dressed up for the wedding.
I haven’t seen Nuah in forever because, after his freshman year ended, he stayed in California, where he’d started college for engineering last fall. But when he comes up tomorrow, it will be for the summer.
I close my eyes because, sappy but true—as Rumi himself knew—the blue skies have moved into my heart now.
Water splashes on my face. A truckload.
Grunting and sputtering with frustration, I flail for a moment before reaching to clear my eyes, to get ready to deal with my super-immature, forever-goofy brother.
The guy is getting married in two days, and he can’t even let me float in peace?
Heaving and righting myself to stand in the shallow water, I open my eyes.
But not to Muhammad.
To a total stranger.
An unbelievably gorgeous total stranger.
I blink twice, but he’s still there. Standing in water to his knees, his legs encased in long shorts, his torso encased in... nothing.
Smiling a sheepish smile, hands on his hips, squinting into the sun behind me, squinting at me.
“Haytham, this is my sister, Janna.” Muhammad steps up to us and slaps this otherworldly creature on its bare back, and it nods at me, brown hair flopping ever so slightly forward. “Janna, meet Haytham, Sarah’s cousin. Here to help with wedding prep.”
“Sorry for splashing you like that,” the creature says, scratching a bare, flat stomach that I will myself not to glance at. “I couldn’t help it. You had this amazing smile on your face, and I wanted to see what would happen.”
“Oh yeah, Sarah told me you had impulse-control issues.” Muhammad starts laughing, while swatting at Luke, our youngest half brother, who’s pulling on his shorts. “But Janna here is all about the impulse control. And you made her mad before you even met her!”
“Sorry again.” The creature folds his arms across a chest that has seen many dedicated workouts. “Janna.”
I don’t say anything. Wrinkles of concern crease the wide and tall and majestic forehead belonging to the interloper. “Do you forgive me? Janna?”
(I have a thing for big foreheads. Everyone has things. Mine happens to be a frontal-lobe matter. Don’t judge, and instead reflect on your own fixations.)
I nod at the forehead and pull at my burkini, clinging to my body now that most of the excess water has dripped out. I tug the fabric to stop it from sticking so ferociously to me.
Which is not a thing you should do in front of a tall, handsome stranger begging your forgiveness.
The burkini, my formerly trusted flotation friend, immediately makes a squelchy farting noise.
The noise that always makes both my half brothers, those pudglings I (used to) affectionately call laddoos after those Indian dessert balls, immediately scream, Janna is farting!
“Janna is farting!” they both shout on cue now.
“I’m not farting!” I yell, tugging at my swimwear again in my nervousness. Another fart sounds in the summer air, weaker and not quite as dedicated to ruining my life.
As squeals of laughter greet the lesser fart, I’m in disbelief that “I’m not farting!” are the first words that came out of my mouth in front of Haytham.
I whip my head around at the squealing scoundrels, my half brothers, products of my father’s hasty remarriage, splashing nearby. “That wasn’t a fart, Luke and Logan!”
“Janna farted again!” Logan shouts.
“Atain!” Luke echoes. He advances his rotund self toward me, paddling furiously in the floatation device he’s permanently wedged into whenever he’s in the water, and pulls at my burkini pants. Lately he’s into disrobing unsuspecting humans of clothing covering their nether regions.
My old, unreliable burkini pants.
Before I have a moment to clutch at them, they fall off completely.
Haytham turns around quickly but not before letting out a laugh that he tries to cover with the back of his hand.
I am so thankful my burkini top is so long, so very, very long, that nothing showed. Thank you, Allah, for saving my butt, literally.
I slide down into the water. As low as I can in the shallowest part of the super-long shallow-entry lake.
And then, while trying to walk away in a dignified but quick fashion on the shifting sands of the lake bed, I trip on the pants swiftly gathering themselves under my feet and tip face-forward into the water.
Underwater, I pray that Haytham didn’t turn around again when he heard the new laughs Logan and Luke let out, Luke even clapping his hands with glee.
I close my eyes and stay in place, even though it’s so shallow. I have to sit cross-legged, and still my head rises in humiliation above the water, like a wounded giraffe.
One of the ways Muhammad is all right is that he gets my utter mortification pretty thoroughly. Even though he has no qualms about doing things to bother me when we’re on our own, he understands, sometimes, the preservation of my dignity in public.
“Okay, we’re going in! Logan, Luke, now! It’s almost dinnertime!” thunders my only dependable brother.
I hear screams of “NO!” accompanied by splashes and threats and grabbings of half brothers, and then silence.
When I open my eyes, they’re gone.
All of them, even him.
I stand and fit my feet through the legs of my pants, frowning as I struggle to find the holes at the hem.
Who is he?
I mean besides being Sarah’s cousin?
Besides being the guy I just got completely humiliated in front of?
Lifting my long burkini top and bunching it under my chin to hold it in place, I tug at the bottom’s waist and knot the excess fabric as best as I can. Mental note: Get a new burkini.
I’m just going to forget this “Janna farted” incident and go get showered and changed and then head to the hotel in town to see Mom, who’s arriving today to help with wedding stuff.
I haven’t seen her in almost a month now, so I can’t wait to catch up.
It was Muhammad who guilted me into staying so long at Dad’s. I hadn’t been sure I wanted to spend three weeks here before the wedding. I had originally wanted to stay home in Eastspring to work and just come up the week of the wedding to help him out, but then Muhammad had pouted, his lips drooping, and he’d slouched his whole self. So you don’t want to hang out with me at Dad’s before you go to college and before I become an old married man? Our last time as free siblings?
So yeah, I’d given in. And said good-bye to Mom. And a job.
I hung around here at Dad’s scrumptious home just resting and relaxing and eating good food and swimming every day and reading all the books and watching all the movies and shows I’d missed while finishing high school. And of course hanging around with Muhammad and Luke and Logan.
And it was fun. I’m glad I did it, actually.
But there’s something I like even more than the comforts at Dad’s: After the wedding, after Muhammad leaves with Sarah, everything goes back to normal. Exactly how I like it.
It’ll only be me and Mom in Eastspring once again, the way it used to be—well, the way it used to be since my parents got divorced when I was ten, and we moved apart when I was eleven.
Before the divorce, I used to think of myself and Dad as a team, as we’re kind of similar in our eye-on-the-prize way of seeing things. He applies it to the business world because he owns a food company, and I apply it to the getting-the-best-grades-possible-in-school world. Dad’s goal-oriented philosophy helped him become the number one prepackaged Indian dessert manufacturer in North America. And mine landed me a hefty scholarship to UChicago to study English.
Team Dad and Janna lasted only so long, though.
When a member of our mosque community assaulted me two years ago, Mom was the one who was there for me. She got me counseling with Dr. Lloyd, pressed charges, and wrapped me in relentless love, and so we became a new team, a championship team. Dad was just a ball of anger, blaming the mosque, wanting something bigger to be held accountable. I found it hard to connect with him then.
Like Mom, Nuah helped me through that time too. He was never far away and stood by me when some people in our community refused to believe what had happened. In addition to duas, he kept sending me memes to brighten my day. And specially selected cat videos—which I have no idea where he found, because they weren’t the viral ones.
So it’s going to be a Nuah-and-me and a mom-and-me summer when we get back to Eastspring, insha’Allah.
And my world going back to being small and cozy like that is exactly what I need when this huge wedding is done.
Reading Group Guide
Reading Group Guide for
Saints and Misfits
Misfit in Love
By S. K. Ali
About the Books
What happens when a person everyone thinks is a saint commits a monstrous act? In Saints and Misfits, Janna Yusuf, an Egyptian and Indian American teen, asks herself this after her friend’s cousin sexually assaults her at a party. She struggles to share her truth, fearing no one will believe her and that non-Muslims will co-opt her experiences to fuel Islamophobia. When her attacker tries to publicly shame her for crushing on Jeremy, a non-Muslim white boy, she begins unraveling the righteous rage she’d repressed. Janna navigates her feelings toward her faith, learning what she values in relationships and accepting support from the true “saints” in her life.
Two years later, in Misfit in Love, Janna is still healing from her assault and renewing her ability to trust, accept love and community, and find her place in the world. Her beloved brother, Muhammad, and future sister-in-law, Sarah, are getting married! What starts as a plan to confess her feelings to her crush before heading off to college becomes an exploration of intracommunity issues regarding anti-Black racism, prejudice, and discrimination in Muslim spaces.
1. Both books open with scenes of Janna swimming in a burkini at her dad’s house. Discuss the symbolism of this choice by comparing the scenes.
2. Contemplate how Janna defines a saint, a misfit, and a monster. Is it possible for someone to be all three? Use examples across both books to explain your response.
3. Janna thinks of Sarah as “the most perfect Muslim girl,” judging her before she even gets to know her. Describe how the saint/misfit dichotomy can be harmful to girls. Think about how the women and girls in the books are portrayed to justify your conclusions.
4. Mr. Ram tells Janna, “‘Why we do an action is what determines its quality. A quality action or not . . . because when we just do things without a why, we become husks. Easily crumpled, no fruit inside.’” Using examples from the book and real life, break down Mr. Ram’s advice. What does he mean? Similarly, if a person has a good “why,” or intention, but their actions cause harm, is that harm erased? Explain your answer.
5. At the mosque open house, Mr. Khoury presses Muhammad on why it’s such a big deal that Farooq “memorized what he doesn’t understand.” Shortly before, Janna found some protection from Farooq by hanging around Mr. Khoury’s “fake booth,” noting the irony of the situation. Explain the irony.
6. After learning that Farooq will lead Ramadan prayers, Janna has flashbacks of the assault and asks herself, “Why do I have to bear his evil in me? It’s his evil. So why is it me that’s hurting?” Look up rape culture and victim blaming. In what ways do you think these terms relate to how Janna feels in this moment?
7. After Janna suggests that Sausun speak up about what’s happening to her sister, Sausun shoots back, “‘You have no idea about the world, do you? . . . I mean, I could ask you, Why’d you keep quiet about your thing? Tell the world about the bastard yourself.’” Using examples from the book, list the reasons why Janna keeps quiet about Farooq and how she grows empowered to voice her truth throughout Saints and Misfits.
8. We learn that Janna’s parents are divorced as she compares life before and after the separation. She doesn’t learn the full story of why they divorced until Misfit in Love. She often expresses that she isn’t included in her mom and brother’s team because she is “too young.” This seems accurate as she is older in the second novel, and they openly discuss more mature topics together. Do you think it was fair for Janna’s parents not to include her? Do you ever feel you’re treated like you’re too young to understand? Are there topics you don’t feel prepared to discuss? Explain your answers.
9. How has Janna’s parents’ relationship impacted her understanding of trust, love, and faith? Use examples from both books to support your answer.
10. Janna loves Flannery O’Connor because justice is served in her stories. How do you define justice? Is there a conflict in Misfit in Love that deserves justice, and if so, how would justice be served? Explain your answers.
11. Consider Janna’s description that she’s “dangling in the wind” between her family’s differing views on Islam, the societal pressures she faces in wanting to be beautiful and liked by her crush, the microaggressions she receives from Tats and Lauren when Jeremy sees her hijabless, and the trauma of her assault. Tats yells, “‘Stop getting mad at me when you haven’t figured it out yourself.’” Put yourself in Janna’s shoes: Have you ever had moments of doubt or contradictory feelings toward your family, faith, and/or culture? What description would you use to explain these feelings? How do these external demands impact us internally?
12. In a shining example of how patriarchy and misogyny can manifest anywhere, Farooq creates a narrative that Janna is “straying” from Islam while maintaining that he has done nothing wrong. Why are his actions hypocritical? What do you think he hopes to achieve by judging Janna on social media and spreading the video of her talking to Jeremy? How do his actions affect how Fizz and Aliya react when Janna tells them Farooq assaulted her?
13. Janna often muses about how powerful wearing niqab is and admires the Niqabi Ninjas. Then she discovers that one of their rants about “Doormats and Other Losers” is about her! Pair up with a partner and discuss your reaction if you were Janna watching the video. How would you feel? What would you have done? Do you think the Niqabi Ninjas had a point? Be prepared to share your responses with the group.
14. Both books expose the aftereffects of trauma that continue years beyond the incident and after Janna has gone to therapy. In Saints and Misfits, Janna notes she has been “cocooning myself in that vacuum of numbness,” even when “the knowledge must have been simmering under the surface of my thoughts.” Find examples in both texts of how Janna is affected by her assault and contrast the effects over time. How are Janna’s reactions and methods for coping different in the two books?
15. Janna is excited about telling Nuah that she likes him back. Since they both follow Islam, she understands they must follow rules, “but the rules will still lead to us being together.” This seems different from how she felt about crushing on Jeremy, which was a “train going nowhere.” Thinking about the struggles Janna went through as she figured out where she fit in, talk about her growth both in maturity and in her relationship to her faith.
16. Why do you think Janna is so scared and anxious about change, including the idea of her mom remarrying and everyone pairing up without her? Provide examples from the text to justify your response.
17. Janna’s mom tells her, “‘People who are exclusionary want to preserve what they have. That they think others will take it all away from them.’” Janna struggles to place this advice in the context of prejudice and racism because she can only think of herself as exclusionary by not wanting her mom to remarry. What are the dangers of removing race, religion, ethnicity, and culture as contexts for racism and prejudice? Why was Janna mistaking her understanding and making it about herself a problem? Explain your conclusions.
18. Janna clings to the outrage she feels at her dad’s blatant anti-Blackness and prejudice, and eventually realizes the outrage was an excuse to avoid confronting her own privileges. Free write for five minutes about your personal identities. Think about a time when you have either witnessed discrimination or perpetuated it. Challenge any defensive feelings that may come up or the desire to point the finger at someone else. You can also write about a time when you experienced discrimination. Did anyone step in as a bystander? How did you want to be supported?
19. Janna is confused by the contradiction that her dad, “who has felt the effects of prejudice himself, is dishing it out now too.” She speculates it’s because anti-Blackness is ingrained in their cultures and feels sorrow that “Nuah understood instantly how he was perceived—and in a space that should have been safe. A Muslim space.” In what ways is anti-Blackness ingrained in your culture? How can you combat anti-Blackness and commit to anti-racism? What are some examples from the book that can be replicated in real life?
20. When Auntie Rima acts “culturally superior” toward Janna, Haytham’s immediate promise to rectify the situation inspires her. Janna thinks about the people in her life who don’t back down from injustice and how they give her courage. Who is someone that pushes you to be brave and confront injustice? Share with the class.
21. What were your reactions to Janna and Nuah finally being open and honest with each other? How might the story have changed if they had communicated clearly from the beginning? Do Janna’s feelings for Nuah, such as considering him “the rainbow in my heart after the storm,” make sense? Explain your answers.
22. What does Janna learn about herself when she asks Tats if she knows about the Bechdel Test? Discuss how her perceptions about boys and needing to be partnered changes over the course of Misfit in Love.
1. In 2011, France passed the first public ban of full-face veils, including niqab and burqa. More countries across Europe, including Belgium, Bulgaria, Austria, Denmark, and Switzerland, followed suit. In response to criticisms of the policies being rooted in Islamophobia, supporters claimed face coverings were a security risk and sexist toward women. As discussed in Saints and Misfits, wearing a niqab, burqa, and a hijab is completely a woman’s choice and a commitment made for many reasons. Sarah leads a session at the mosque on “the powers of being free of societal beauty judgment,” in response to dressing modestly. Upon learning Sausun has chosen to wear niqab, Janna feels at once intimidated and impressed, stating, “Basically, she looks like she’s excused herself from the proceedings of life’s unnecessariness.” Using examples from the book and your own experiences, write a reflective essay on societal beauty standards and how they are informed by gender, race, culture, and religion.
2. When discussing the portrayal of Caliban from Shakespeare’s The Tempest with Mr. Ram, Janna sees the logic of Mr. Ram’s argument, but she keeps coming back to the fact that Caliban attacked Miranda. She states, “‘That bothers me more than Shakespeare maybe meaning Caliban to be a dark man.’” Mr. Ram responds, “‘So you don’t want to dig deeper, then.’” In groups of four, research the plot of The Tempest as well as academic sources that discuss Caliban’s race. Analyze the parallels between Saints and Misfits and Caliban, thinking about who he represents in Janna’s life, what Mr. Ram’s response means, and how his response might have changed if he had known why Janna could only see evil in Caliban. Research the term intersectionality, coined by Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw, and consider how Janna’s experience as a young Muslim woman of color might inform her understanding of Caliban. Be prepared to discuss your thoughts with the class.
3. Across both books, Mr. Ram and Amu are considered wise elders in the community who gift young people with life advice, ways to reflect, and a chance to shift perspectives. As a class, brainstorm questions and advice you would like to receive from elders in your community. Then identify an elder in your community, and conduct an interview using these questions. You may record the interview with permission or simply write down their answers. Work together as a class to compile a blog with the Q&As.
4. Layth pokes fun at Janna’s plans to study British literature under the belief that she is “‘supporting the man.’” Janna explains she is “‘studying it to take him down. . . . I want to take it apart, starting with the white man’s burden myth repeated over and over in our favorite classics, that we overlook all the time at school or wave away as being inconsequential to the greater contribution that these quote unquote ‘beloved’ authors make, but that ultimately cements in our consciousness the idea that we brown and Black people will never be consequential.’” Choose a British or American classic assigned in school and write an essay about how people of color are represented in the book, connecting the representations to present-day issues like xenophobia, settler colonialism, and racism.
5. The Niqabi Ninjas YouTube channel is a big hit within Janna’s community. Haytham reveals his nervousness about impressing Sausun, “‘Because she’s amazing. Her channel is amazing. The way she talks about Muslim stuff. And current issues. Even my non-Muslim friends watch and share it. She’s funny. She’s brave, and she doesn’t back down. So she has my mad respect.’” Working in pairs, choose a current issue you are passionate about and script a series of short videos, such as for use on Instagram reels or TikToks, informing audiences about the current issue, including calls to action. Be creative like the Niqabi Ninjas!
6. Misfit in Love explores not only romantic love, but also what it means to love yourself, to understand the role faith plays in love, and to accept that love is not stagnant. Janna learns love can also mean tough conversations like the ones she has with her father about his prejudice and those she has with herself upon realizing she “can’t be a person who only thinks about stuff. Who theorizes. Who makes a great world in my mind.” Janna opens herself up to love and realizes she is not alone. Juxtapose this with how she felt at the beginning of Saints and Misfits. Write a letter to yourself about how you define love and the role it has in your life. You can either choose to write the letter to your past self, thinking of a time when you felt alone and had to face a hard truth, or to your future self, considering advice you think you’ll need one day.
Guide written by Cynthia Medrano, Digital Services Librarian at Heartland Community College, and member of the 2022 Rise: A Feminist Book Project Committee.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or thebookpantry.net.