Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali
About the Book
- Genre: Young Adult | Contemporary [#ownvoices]
- Length: 219 pages on an e-reader
- Published on 13th June 2017 by Salaam Reads/ Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
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.
This review contains minor spoilers.
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.
This was one of my most anticipated reads and after I finished reading it, I couldn’t wait to write the review! I have so much to tell you all about this book. Pardon me if it gets a bit too long.
Straight off the bat, I loved this book! With the brilliant writing it has, I am sure I will come back to this book often. S. K. Ali is now one of the authors I would keep a watch for, and honestly pick up anything she writes!
I know memory can be selective and nostalgia deceptive, but when the floor goes from underneath, I’d rather fall back than down.
What a beautiful line ❤
Ms Ali has spun a gorgeous tale from the seemingly ordinary yarn. By providing just a glimpse into the life of a Muslim, she has achieved something incredible and wonderful! One needs to look deep and beyond the subtlety of the words in order to truly reveal the hidden messages. I may be the only one to have felt this way and I am not even sure that the author was actually trying to convey such and such messages as will be discussed here, but if I was able to decode it, I hope others would too.
The MC Janna Yousuf isn’t exactly what you would call ‘an ideal Muslim girl’. She isn’t the poster girl for our community. She is flawed and that’s what makes her real to me. She is unapologetically Muslim and wears her hijab with pride, that’s what makes her real to me. The author does not tamper her Muslim identity and doesn’t show her taking off her hijab to conform to norms or to be seen as more relatable, and that friends, is what makes her real to me. I felt connected to Janna not only because of the above reasons but also because she and I share so much in common. Whether it be the fact that she is an immigrant or her obsession with college, I saw myself in her. The biggest pro about Janna’s personality is that she is a READER! I haven’t read anything Flannery O’Connor but reading about Janna raving about her has compelled me to pick up her works and give them a read.
Now that I have raved about Janna in more than 100 words, let me also tell you about the time when Janna did something I would never do. For one of her gym classes where her crush, Jeremy teaches them softball, she accidentally comes in front of him without the hijab on. I wouldn’t have cared about it at all, but what irked me is that she chose to do the same thing again without feeling as much as a grain-sized amount of guilt. Hijab holds a very important position in our lives. It did in Janna’s too but the fact that she just took it off, willingly too, is not something I can comprehend or relate to. This is magnified more by the fact that Janna is a full-time Hijabi.
The portrayal of family dynamic was on point! Muhammed, Janna’s brother was such a cute, protective elder brother. I instantly took a liking to his character. One of the assets of Ali’s writing is that even though she used Janna to narrate the story, she didn’t bias the narration and thus even if Janna didn’t agree with her mother or brother often, I did! Janna’s thought process during the time she was asked to vacate the room for her brother and share a room with her mother didn’t necessarily overshadow the fact that Muhammed really needed the room.
There are so many characters in this book that are worth mentioning. One character that I adored the most is Sausan ❤ The Niqabi Ninja! Her blunt and bold attitude towards everything in life and the way she handles stuff made me fall in love with her character. To accurately describe Sausan, I am going to quote Janna’s thoughts about Sausan when the latter tells her that she is contemplating covering her face, in other words donning a niqab:
If she did end up covering her face, it would be like saying to the world You cretins and peasants are only permitted to see my eyes. Which lo and behold, wouldn’t you know it, happen to be my most striking feature.
Being a niqabi myself, I can totally relate! 😀
And then, there is Nuah. Nuah had the same effect on me as Muhammed! One of instant liking. He is the kind of guy who will give you space when you need it and at the same time find a way to help you cheer up.
How can I forget Sarah! The center of Janna’s jealousy. From calling her ‘Saint Sarah’ to finding flaws in everything she does, Janna didn’t spare this poor girl for even a second. I honestly couldn’t figure out why Janna behaved in such a way with Sarah. There was no reason and this jealousy wasn’t provided with any justification. Nevertheless, some of my laugh out loud moments came from the times when Janna talked about Sarah.
I loved the way the author incorporated tid-bits about Islam through Janna’s emails to her uncle. Although, they didn’t discuss anything too deep, they still provide some information about Islam. I also appreciated the way her uncle answered those questions and incorporated common sense and humour in.
This book covers a very important and deep issue and is actually able to present it brilliantly. The underlying message, that I talked about initially, is to not judge a book by its cover. By labelling oneself as a Hafiz (one who has memorized the Quran) or even a Jihadi, without knowing what these terms stand for, one cannot instantly claim a spot in heaven.
“So, you memorized a book, but you don’t know what it says?” Mr Khoury sounds incredulous. “A book you say God sent?”
“But that’s like my boss gives me instructions, and I just memorize them. I don’t even know what the instructions are. And then my boss asks me if I did my job, and I recite his instructions back to him! My boss would fire me!”
These lines were spoken to Faroukh, the monster, the so-called Hafiz. In reality these lines have been spoken to all those people around the world who use my religion as a means to justify their heinous acts.
Overall, Saints and Misfits is a well- written cute contemporary that doesn’t necessarily aim to highlight heavier issues but does acknowledge their existence in subtle ways. It is a light- hearted, surreal read that I would definitely recommend you to check out.
Special thanks to my dear friend Fuzaila for sending the book over ❤