A William C. Morris Award Finalist
An Entertainment Weekly Best YA Book of 2017
Saints and Misfits is a “timely and authentic” (School Library Journal, starred review) debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life...starring a Muslim teen.
There are three kinds of people in my world:
1. Saints, those special people moving the world forward. Sometimes you glaze over them. Or, at least, I do. They’re in your face so much, you can’t see them, like how you can’t see your nose.
2. Misfits, people who don’t belong. Like me—the way I don’t fit into Dad’s brand-new family or in the leftover one composed of Mom and my older brother, Mama’s-Boy-Muhammad.
Also, there’s Jeremy and me. Misfits. Because although, alliteratively speaking, Janna and Jeremy sound good together, we don’t go together. Same planet, different worlds.
But sometimes worlds collide and beautiful things happen, right?
3. Monsters. Well, monsters wearing saint masks, like in Flannery O’Connor’s stories.
Like the monster at my mosque.
People think he’s holy, untouchable, but nobody has seen under the mask.
|Publisher:||Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.00(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
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.
Read an Excerpt
Saints and Misfits
I’m in the water. Only my eyes are visible, and I blow bubbles to ensure the rest of me stays submerged until the opportune time. Besides the lifeguard watching from his perch, there’s a gaggle of girls my age patrolling the beach with younger siblings in tow. They pace in their flip-flops and bikinis, and I wait.
The ideal time is when no one’s around and no one’s looking. But right now there’s a little girl cross-legged on wooden bleachers peering at me from beneath a hand held aloft at her forehead, a smile on her face. I can’t tell if the smile is a result of how long she’s been watching me bob here in the water.
To check whether she’s staring, I test her with a long gaze to the left of the bleachers, where Dad and his wife Linda are barbecuing. Their oldest son, Logan, round and berry-brown from a day in the sun, is digging a hole nearby, while the newest addition, Luke, lies on a quilt wearing a swim diaper.
Dad said I’d love it here because the beachfront cottage they’d rented was one of the only two Cherie and Ed had let out this weekend. Secluded. Serene. Safe.
Ha. Cherie and Ed forgot to mention that the beach portion doesn’t actually belong to them and is public property at all hours of the day. Party central.
I look back, and, hallelujah, the girl on the bleachers is gone. There’s also a lull on the shore now. The lifeguard’s turned to talk to someone behind him, and the beach girls are on the far right, peering at a sand castle.
I stand and cringe at the sucking sound as my swimsuit sticks to me, all four yards of the spandex-Lycra blend of it. Waterfalls gush out of the many hems on the outfit, and, as I hobble out of the lake, more secret pockets release their water. I’m a drippy, squelchy mess, stumbling toward Dad and Linda, picking up tons of sand as I move. I refuse to look around in case I see someone, everyone, watching me.
Maybe my face reveals something, because Dad starts right away.
“Janna, why do you have to wear that thing? You could have said, No, I’m not wearing your burkini, Mom.” He waves around long tongs as he speaks.
“Mom didn’t get it for me. I ordered it online.”
“I saw her hand it to you as we were packing the car.”
“Because I’d left it on the hall table, Dad.”
“It’s her kind of thing. What’s wrong with the way Linda’s dressed?” He snaps the tongs at Linda. She’s wearing a one-piece, just-had-a-baby, flouncy-at-the-hips number, and, really, I’d rather be in my burkini. It’s black and sleek. Sure, when it gets wet, you kind of resemble a droopy sea lion, but at least it isn’t pink and lime green like Linda’s swimsuit is.
“Linda, you look great.” I smile at her, and she smooths out her flounces.
“Too bad you’re not her size—she could have lent you one of her suits, right, Linda?”
“Dad, I won’t wear it. I’m a hijabi, remember?” I take a plate and add a piece of chicken from the platter.
“At the beach? Even at the beach?” Dad’s gesticulating again and looking around—for what, I don’t know. When he spies a woman unfolding a lounge chair nearby and starts talking louder, I realize it’s for an audience. He wants an audience while he rants at me.
Maybe I should’ve listened to Mom and not come. My first vacation with Dad’s family since my parents split when I was eleven and it’s like I’m a visitor among the earthlings frolicking on a beach in Florida.
Before this, I’d only spent the odd weekend here and there with Dad at his house in Chicago. I was “Daddy’s princess” back then.
The woman in the chair listens intently as Dad lectures. Linda’s got a hand on his arm, and it’s traveling up to his shoulder with a firmer grip, but he’s still talking.
“How come you have to hide your God-given body?” He turns a few burgers over. He’s wearing a white T-shirt and red shorts over his God-given body. “It’s not me who forces her to dress like that, that’s for sure.”
The woman looks at me, then at Dad and opens a book.
Linda places a hand on my glistening black back and hands me a can of pop. “I’ll get you a burger when they’re done,” she whispers.
I move to sit on the bleachers before I realize the beach girls are sauntering this way again. I’m a swirl of sand art against a black canvas.
I duck under the wooden slats of the seats. Cradling my plate on crossed legs, I flip back the swim cap that’s attached to my suit and undo my hair. Sand trickles down with the beads of water. Some of it falls onto my chicken.
Flannery O’Connor, my favorite author: That’s who I need right now.
Flannery would take me away from here and deposit me into her fictitious world crawling with self-righteous saints and larger-than-life misfits. And I’d feel okay there because Flannery took care of things. Justice got served.
I forgot to pack her gigantic book of short stories because everything was last minute. I’d wanted to escape so badly that when Dad mentioned this trip with his family, I’d asked, “Can I come?” without thinking.
Mom had tried to put her foot down about taking a vacation right before exams, but, luckily for me, my brother Muhammad is home for the summer from college. He talked her into letting me come. She listens to practically everything he says.
If it had been only me telling her I needed to get away, far away from Eastspring, she would’ve talked over me.
She didn’t know I had to get away from a monster. And the truth is no one can know.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Janna Yusuf is a sophomore in high school struggling to understand and overcome her assault. Her recovery is ten times harder because her aggressor is an esteemed member of the Muslim community, and he’s a family friend. He permeates almost every area of Janna’s life and even begins to place shame on her! Alongside this, Janna is indulging her crush on Jeremy - a boy from school who is not of the Muslim faith. She finds herself conflicted in the major areas of her life; family, friends, and faith. I learned a lot from Saints & Misfits. Ali does a wonderful job of educating her readers about Islamic culture and Muslim experiences. What’s refreshing about this story is that Janna is dealing with the same problems and crises as other girls her age. Her hijab might make her look different, but Janna is like you and I in so many ways. I also appreciated the complexity of the story. Janna has a lot on her plate. No one element of her life takes over. She deals with different types of relationships and struggles with her education and work. She is a well rounded and relatable character. I couldn’t shake the feeling that her life continued after this novel, and that she’s somewhere out there thriving!
Janna divides people in three categories, saints, misfits and monsters. Janna is having a tough time and there's nobody she dares to talk to. This is mostly because of the monster, someone at her local mosque who presents himself as a saint, but in reality scares her badly. For Janna religion is important, she's a Muslim and lives with her single mother. Her father isn't religious, but Janna wants to follow the traditions she's been brought up with. Being at the mosque used to feel safe, but lately that's no longer the case because the monster is harrassing her. Janna has a crush on someone at school, only that proves to be a bit of a problem. She can't approach him in the same way most other girls of her school would, because that would be too forward. She doesn't know if Jeremy is interested, but has admired him from afar for a long time. However, Jeremy isn't a Muslim and that makes it difficult for her to spend time with him or to even consider dating him. Janna is confused about boys, life, friends, family and people's personalities. Will she be able to figure out who she is and learn to stand up for herself, so she won't be so afraid anymore? Saints and Misfits is a fantastic story about a sweet and intelligent Muslim teen. I love how S.K. Ali paints a clear picture of what it’s like to live by the rules of the religion, while also being a teenager with dreams, hopes and fears. She combines this with an impressive story about sexual harassment that's emotionally very well narrated. I was impressed by Janna's story. She has so much to deal with and has to find the courage within to be able to get through the most terrifying moments all by herself. Being a misfit means she makes mistakes, but by learning from them she grows as a person. Finding out if she'd dare to share her story kept me on the edge of my seat and I loved the way S.K. Ali eventually makes her do this, it's fitting, bold and fabulous. S.K. Ali has a beautiful moving writing style. The overall tone of voice of Saints and Misfits is a little sad, because Janna is struggling. I loved how S.K. Ali shows emotions through both the scenes she writes and the way she writes them, that makes her story incredibly impressive. Saints and Mistits is a mesmerizing story filled with personal growth, thought-provoking questions and surprising twists and turns. I highly recommend this amazing book.
Thanks to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing for the opportunity to read and review Saints and misfits by S.K. Ali. Janna lives in a Muslim home with her mother and brother. Her dad is remarried and has young children with his new wife. The story opens with Janna at the beach with her dad's family. She needed to get away from her home and her friend's cousin who tried raping her. Janna calls him Monster. It seems that she has told no one. The story backtracks weeks before and shows Janna and her school, home and community life. Janna is frustrated that everyone thinks Faroq, Monster, is a wonderful and good person. She finally confides in someone and she takes matters into her own hands. Then it all gets thrown back in her face. Relatable characters and events make this book a part of reality. 4 stars for a story about society’s expectations and the complications that go with them. *I received a complimentary copy of this book for voluntary consideration.
For Janna Yusuf, 15, life just got a little more complicated. Janna is a hijab wearing Muslim whose parents, a Egyptian Muslim mom and secular Indian dad, are divorced; her older brother Muhammad has just moved back home from college after changing his major yet again, and is in the process of arranging a marriage with a girl Janna sarcastically refers to as Saint Sarah. Janna has also just been sexually assaulted by Farooq, the pious golden boy of the mosque, who everyone is in awe of because he claimed to have memorized the Qur’an and is even allowed to lead prayers. Added to all this is Janna’s crush on a white Christian boy named Jeremy, a friend of her brother and Farooq, and a boy she knows she can never date. Janna spends her time trying to avoid Farooq, not knowing what to do about the assault. She does manage to go about her regular daily life at home and school. She continues to “elder-sit” Mr. Ram, an elderly Hindu man she takes to the community center once a week, and to participate in events at school, where she is the only other girl in an enriched math class; and at the mosque, she edits a newsletter Q&A for her uncle, the Imam, and photographs the mosque’s annual Open House. She is also part of the mosque’s team that goes a state-wide Islamic Quiz Bowl tournament. Janna’s two best friends are Tats, who is not Muslim and continues to promote a relationship between Janna and Jeremy, not really understanding that Janna can’t date him, and Fizz, who is Farooq’s cousin, and who is a little too judgmental. But it is radical Sausun who really impacts Janna’s life. Ironically, Sausun is the most empowered girl in the book, a character who looks at everything with distain, including Janna, but who is a candy guzzler, Doc Martens- wearing, Youtuber, running a show called “Niqabi Ninjas” (unlike hijab, niqab covers the entire face, except the eyes). As you might have surmised, Saints and Misfits is definitely a character-driven novel and Janna is its most complex character - a person for whom religion plays an important part in her life, a photographer, a graphic artist (she began a pictorial seerah life of the Prophet Muhammad book at age 9) and a lover of Flannery O’Connor stories. But Janna is also a questioner, who is just starting to discover and explore who she really is. Beside Janna, Ali has created a cast of interesting, mainly Muslim characters. Through them, she explores Muslim culture and some of the difficulties faced by girls who are, on the one hand, not so very different from other girls their age, but who are also bound by the strictures of their religion, a situation Farooq cruelly takes advantage of when Janna refuses to forgive and forget what he did to her. In reality, those of us who are not Muslim see girls and women wearing hijab all the time, but never really think or know what is means to decide to wear it. Through Janna and Farooq, Ali makes it clear what the underlying meaning of this decision is - more than just a symbol of modesty, it is supposed to protect Muslim women from being harassed and/or molested by men. Understanding that, Farooq’s behavior goes against everything that he is supposed to stand for. Janna's story is a compelling, engrossing tale of self-discovery, and her lively narration will keep readers interested all the way through, and curious to see how she ultimately deals with Farooq’s assault and it is totally worth reading to the end to find out.
In the beginning this book was a little boring. But how I feel upon finishing a book is much fresher in my mind and therefore way more influential on the rating than how I felt at first. And by the end, I felt like this book was awesome. One of my favorite parts was the relationships. There are so many kinds of well developed relationships in this book (perhaps a reason there's not as much plot: it's more character-driven). So much about family, with Janna's strained relationship with her mother, trying to adjust to her parents' divorce and dealing with her well-meaning but clueless brother. There are friendships— the "best friend forever" kind (that still has its own issues and development!) and the "tentatively falling for each other" kind and the "we might not get along at all but somehow this works" kind (and so much more!) — and enemy-ships that add a ton of drama and tension. And then of course there's the monster looming over the story, and the specter of Janna's fear. Because as much as the book is about external relationships, the heart of the story is Janna's internal struggle with the part of herself that's too scared to open her mouth. All the girls in Saints and Misfits are fighting back, as slowly and surely as Janna accumulates photos of her friends, business/life tips from her dad, and the confidence to look for support all around her.
This is a perfect high school depiction. The drama, the stress, growing into responsibilities, growing into your identity. Excellent female friendships too. I loved this!