SAINTS AND MISFITS by S.K. Ali
Rating: ★ ★ ★
Trigger/content warnings: sexual assault
How much can you tell about a person just by looking at them?
Janna Yusuf knows a lot of people can’t figure out what to make of her…an Arab Indian-American hijabi teenager who is a Flannery O’Connor obsessed book nerd, aspiring photographer, and sometime graphic novelist is not exactly easy to put into a box.
And Janna suddenly finds herself caring what people think. Or at least what a certain boy named Jeremy thinks. Not that she would ever date him—Muslim girls don’t date. Or they shouldn’t date. Or won’t? Janna is still working all this out.
While her heart might be leading her in one direction, her mind is spinning in others. She is trying to decide what kind of person she wants to be, and what it means to be a saint, a misfit, or a monster. Except she knows a monster…one who happens to be parading around as a saint…Will she be the one to call him out on it? What will people in her tightknit Muslim community think of her then?
Saints and Misfits was one of my most anticipated books to read in July. I was hearing amazing things about it from everyone who’s already read it and it was also the book of the month for a book club I host. But I feel like my expectations were a bit too high for this one and unfortunately I found myself a little let down.
Saints and Misfits is by no mean a bad book and I definitely will still be recommending it to people, but I just found myself so bored and uninterested for most of the story. I appreciated the intersectional feminism, the exploration of faith, the discussion and exploration of the repercussions of sexual assault and the diversity of the novel, but I just found it really lacking in plot. I’ve been flying through my books this month and this one took me a week and a half to read because I would just keep finding my mind wandering because nothing was happening. This is a very character driven book, but even then, I still prefer to have my character driven books have more of a plot than this did. It’s also hard to become immersed into a story when there’s only a handful of characters you actually care to read about.
I really liked Janna, our main character, and I liked the familial relationships shown throughout the book. I liked that Janna made mistakes and owned up to them and felt that she really grew as a character over the course of the story. I liked the realistic portrayal of the ups and downs of friendships and the meanness and pettiness of some kids in high school. I also liked the realistic portrayal of crushes, and how they can be fleeting and change at any moment. In saying that, I found I just didn’t care much about the Janna x Jeremy plot line. We learn that Janna has a crush on Jeremy relatively early on in the book but I don’t think they even say a word to each other until halfway through the book. Further, Janna literally stalks Jeremy’s house on google maps. What the fuck? I just personally found that really damn creepy and didn’t think that literally stalking a person’s house on google maps should be shown as romantic or whatever???? I dunno.
I had other problems with some of the side characters, and because of that, it kind of ruined the reading experience a little. You have to be really invested in the characters if you’re going to enjoy a character driven story, and since I couldn’t care less about some of the subplots, I was just really bored and times and was always just waiting for the plot to pick up. Once I really stuck into it, it didn’t take me long to finish the book and it’s by no means a long read, but because of my boredom and constant waiting for something else to happen, it just really dampened the read for me.
Apart from my issue with the lack of plot/not caring for some side characters, I liked pretty much everything about this. As I said previously, I really liked the exploration of faith. It’s not often that you read a YA book with a Muslim protagonist, written by a Muslim writer and so that experience was great in itself. I really liked the repetition of the idea that women choose to wear their hijabs and that wearing the hijab or niqab can be empowering.
As well as this side of faith, I also liked the discussion of what happens when somebody who everybody thinks is this holy person has actually tried to do something really bad. And that then presented the idea that we should hold people up on pedestals and shouldn’t believe that people can’t do bad things just because they’re seen as a good person. I thought this idea was an interesting idea to read in conjunction with the discussions around faith. My only complaint about this part though is that the ending of the book is a little too rushed re: this aspect.
Overall, I think Saints and Misfits is a really addition to the YA contemporary genre. It humanises our Muslim protagonist and explores important topics such as sexual assault, faith, feminism and diversity. Whilst I found the plot lacking and didn’t particularly care for all the characters, I do recommend this nonetheless and hope you check it out.
Thanks so much for reading!
Until next time,