I can’t imagine what it means to love everyone, but I’m going to start right here, by loving a bit more of myself. And maybe then the rest will follow.
Janna Yusuf is surrounded by saints and misfits. She’s just trying to make sense of her life, and her feelings for an unreachable boy. But a particular monster, masked as a saint, is making it difficult for her. She can’t ignore him but she isn’t ready to speak the truth and if she does, what will others think of her?
Saints and Misfits has one of the most appreciable Muslim representations I’ve seen in a young adult novel. Ali nicely and quickly captures the life of Muslim teen that felt real. We see Janna living an ordinary life: Janna attends mosque events, wears the hijab while also going through typical teen drama and daily school life. Islam isn’t this HUGE block that’s separated from her, it’s weaved and incorporated into the plot, in a way that felt natural. It’s a coming of age story that felt normal. There was nothing wrong with Janna being Muslim, and that felt so good to read.
It’s also refreshing to see a different Muslim family relationship. Her mother is really supportive and encourages her daughter and genuinely wants to see her do well. There’s also the additional characters which come from Janna’s involvement in the mosque, including her uncle and imam. We’re shown such positive atmosphere from Janna’s time at the mosque. I loved the family dynamic which felt the most relatable. Specifically, the relationship with Janna and her brother. I cannot tell you how much I related to her frustration, especially when she felt like her brother’s needs were continually being put above hers.
The one thing I appreciated about the “monster” was how he was considered a saint, despite us knowing how atrocious he actually is. I know from experience, you can be utterly devoted to Islam and be seen as a person who can do no wrong, but still be a terrible and deceiving person. I’ve seen it, not the way Janna has, but similar. Not everyone is awful, though, but also not everyone is as perfect as they put on. I appreciate Ali bring the topic of sexual assault into the conversation and treating it with such respect. However, something was missing, and I did feel like the ending should’ve been extended a bit more.
I started the book by listening to the audiobook but then switched over to a Kindle version at around 60% into the book once I realised it was available from my library’s online library. While I enjoy audiobooks, I think because I was really excited to read this, even the highest speed wasn’t fast enough for me. Ariana Delawari does a great job of narrating the story. I really enjoyed her voice and tone, and I think she really suited the story.
Overall, Saints and Misfits is essential and a great addition to YA. It explores crucial yet difficult topics such as assault, faith and diversity. It’s very character-driven which is something I used to struggle with when reading books,, but I liked it here, and the plot may be lacking to other readers but I recommend this nonetheless. It was an experience for me, and it may not be perfect, but one I’ll remember and take with me for a long time.
tw: attempted rape with continuous mention of the sexual assault throughout the novel (if you’ve read the book and feel like I’ve missed something out, please tell me!)