When I first heard about Saints and Misfits, the debut novel from SK Ali, I was super excited. It had one of those gripping descriptions that made me so curious to see what was inside:
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.
Plus, that cover is stunning.
I finished Saints and Misfits a little while ago and let me tell you, it’s still on my mind. It’s one of those great books that you can’t put down when you’re reading it and can’t stop thinking about when you’ve finished. I’m so excited for you all to read this too — so to convince you to pick it up, I’ve compiled a list of reasons to read it. Check out the list, and then go grab yourself a copy! I promise you won’t regret it. And once you’ve read it, be sure to come back and tell me what you think in the comments below!
1. Janna is the best
Janna, the protagonist of Saints and Misfits, is one of the most relatable YA heroines I’ve read in a while. She’s super awkward, has an impossible crush on a guy that she’s totally unable to speak to, hates all the perfect people in her life, fights with her brother, and is also super smart and funny. She’s got a dry wit that really carries the book — even during the dark parts, her view on the universe is brilliant and so, so real.
2. It has a Muslim main character
Islam is a massive part of Janna’s life and community — it affects how she sees herself and how other people see her (and how she assumes they see her, of course). Janna’s struggles were super realistic and genuine — like all teenagers she’s just trying to figure out who she is and what she wants. It just so happens to be that her religion and community plays a big part in that. It’s an awesome portrayal, and a great glimpse into what Muslim communities are actually like as opposed to what we’re so often and inaccurately told about them. Realistic portrayals of communities who rarely get them are why #WeNeedDiverseBooks !
3. It confronts rape culture
One of the main conflicts in Saints and Misfits is that Janna was sexually assaulted by Farooq, her friend’s cousin and a member of her mosque. Janna’s terrified to tell anybody because Farooq is in super good standing at the mosque — everyone thinks he’s a poster child for a good Muslim, and he’s becoming a big leader in their community because of it. Janna’s fear is unfortunately totally realistic. It’s hard to speak up against people who are in a position of power over you. It’s made even harder considering Farooq uses his position of power to repeatedly insert himself into Janna’s life. While it’s horrible how many real people find themselves in similar situations every day, it’s an important subject to tackle, particularly in YA.
4. The sibling dynamic
As a person with an older brother, I am constantly frustrated by the ways siblings are portrayed in media. They’re often either best friends who never ever fight, or people who 100% hate each other. Saints and Misfits totally nails it with Janna and her older brother Muhammad. Muhammad means well, and is really trying to be a friend to Janna, but he goes about it in such an annoying way that’s super true to actual older brothers (no offense to mine if he’s reading this!) And Janna’s often snippy and quick to dismiss her older brother, something that I can deeply relate too (sorry bro!). It’s nice to see a fun and real sibling dynamic in a novel, and I really enjoyed both characters.
5. Saint Sarah
Everyone has that one person in their lives who is irritatingly perfect. Janna’s is Sarah, whom she calls Saint Sarah, the girl who Janna’s brother is courting. Saint Sarah irritates Janna for many reasons, largely because she’s the most seemingly pure and devout person at their mosque. Of course, there’s more to Sarah than meets the eye, and she actually wound up being one of my favorite characters. It’s nice to see a book take the aloof, perfect girl and make her a fully realized and dynamic character.
6. It highlights Flannery O’Connor
Janna’s favorite author is Flannery O’Connor, which is brought up several times. As a long-time Flannery fan, this was super exciting! I was always that kid listening to the music and reading the authors that my favorite YA heroes loved. Hopefully through Janna some of you discover Flannery and her amazing writing yourselves!