Assassinating my bad reading habits has made it possible for me to actually start blowing through books again, which is such a phenomenal feeling! Mid-way through the Ramadan Readathon, I’ve finally finished my first book for this reading event, called Saints and Misfits written by S.K. Ali. This is an #OwnVoices, Islamic young adult novel that left me feeling really good and inspired.
Saints and Misfits follows the adolescent life-happenings for a girl named Janna Yusuf. She’s got a pair of dysfunctional divorced parents, a variety of friends including Muslims and non-Muslims, and a cute risqué boy crush named Jeremy. One fine day while hanging out at her Muslim friend’s (Fizz) house, she has a terrible interaction with a guy who sexually molests Janna with the intent to rape her. To make matters even worse, the boy is a very respected and admired figure in Janna’s close-knit Islamic community and social circle. The event sets off a series of emotional turmoil and too-close-for-comfort moments in Janna’s life, following her like a shadow as she struggles to steer her way through the mundane existence of adolescent living.
I’m going to be very candid with y’all. This novel had an effect on me, one that made me able to relate to Janna in an extremely intimate way. Because of this emotional connection that was formulated from the very beginning, my opinions on the book might be slightly biased, or jaded. I don’t think this is a bad thing at all because as beautifully individualistic readers, books are going to effect all of us differently, or in some cases rather indifferently. If anything, it just means that my experience with it is rather personal and something that I found to be immensely pleasant. There are so many facets to Saints and Misfits that I wholly adored, and I’m excited to share these musing with y’all.
I loved the structure of the story. Even while tackling some very serious subject matter, it manages to stay positive and uplifting. It tackles some topics, aside from the central conflict in Janna’s life, that are emotionally uncomfortable and even sad. Yet, it never loses this very safe and warm aura that veils you within the first forty or fifty pages as we get to familiarise ourselves with the young woman known as Janna Yusuf.
Speaking of our protagonist, let’s take a moment to examine her. We learn very quickly that she’s is an independent-thinker, who’s isn’t ashamed of who she is or how she looks (i.e. choosing to wear a hijab doesn’t faze her and it’s wonderful). In all of the obstacles that come around to flick her in the nose, she doesn’t compromise her integrity or beliefs to fit the popular mould, even while she battles the circumstances of those obstacles. I’m not sure about you folks out there, but I love an MC, particularly in young adult literature since it’s so damn rare, who can be so head-strong. She’s also witty as all hell with humour that made me chuckle with glee, a bookworm, and a fantastic artist.
Some motifs that I picked up on, relate to empowerment, specifically female empowerment, and how as women we shouldn’t be made to feel shame or guilt for someone else’s selfish and fucked up behaviour. Being a woman doesn’t make us inferior, less intelligent or less capable, and damn well doesn’t make us accountable to anyone aside from ourselves and our beliefs. This is what a pro-feminist novel looks like and feels like, illustrating us as equals in the world.
The conflicts that take place in the book also don’t head-dive into a stinking pile of over-dramatic plot twists and turns. Everything unfolds in an ordinary way that’s natural with its execution. A smoothness from beginning to end helps carry you from page to page without you realising that you’re being pulled forward. Books that can just pull you in to such an extent is the mark of talented storytelling. All of the subplots have a fresh and instinctive conclusion; nothing leaves you feeling unsatisfied or hungry. The same can be said for the overall finale of the novel. It doesn’t awkwardly jump pacing, by either going too fast or too slow, and when you close that back cover, you take this breathe of comfort because it all fits so well.
The last component that I wish to mention is the representation that takes place in this book in regards to Islamic communities, and cultures as a whole. It’s so positive. Being able to read a novel where I could see a reflection of myself, and the reflection of my community, as something that is very normal in the issues and problems that arise, in the internal strife, and just the way the community comes together as one tight-knit family, was stunning. It shows us as human beings who have the exact same struggles and way of living that anyone outside of Islam also shares. Being a Muslim doesn’t make us some sort of twisted, oppressed, and idealistic group of people incapable of feeling and thinking in the ways that everyone else does. We also get to see male characters who are comfortingly feminist, meaning they see women as equals and treat them with respect, like they would each other. Seeing them promote and support instead of festering them to outdated cultural constructs, which is so frustratingly negative, just made me so indescribably happy. This is what I know of the men in the Islamic community, with some of my friends and my father, and to see this exhibited in Saints and Misfits brought tears to my eyes. The representation of Islam in this book in and of itself is so damn necessary and educational and enlightening, making it one of the most pivotal reads of the year.
If there are any flaws with Saints and Misfits that I could point out, it would be that sometimes Janna’s behaviour can feel slightly oxymoronic as she deals with conflicting thoughts and feelings, which can contribute to a level of predictability in the plot’s progression. But in regards to the big parts, where it matters most, even I had a difficult time completely pin-pointing just how everything would play out in the end. I like being wrong, or not getting it right, so naturally I loved being surprised.
Overall, if you’re a fan of young adult books, then I highly recommend Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali. You will laugh, cry, feel warm and fuzzy, feel sad and mildly frustrated, but at the end of it all, you will feel comforted and content. It’s definitely one of the best YA books I’ve read.
4.75 waffles outta 5!
TRIGGER WARNING: Mild sexual assault scene and subject matter.