Saints and Misfits is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.
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 is a great start to the road for more YA contemporaries with Muslim main characters. The plot is of a typical YA contemporary about finding your voice and overcoming a past trauma. There are many things the book does well and I applaud the author for trying to educate people on what Islam is actually like.
The main character Janna is a fifteen year old, Muslim hijabi teen in the United States. She is kind-hearted and faithful. She tries to balance her religion with a typical high school experience and it was interesting to see what she does to not have to compromise one for the other (sometimes unsuccessfully). The book does a good job in highlighting that people aren’t perfect; Janna makes many mistakes in this novel but she is only fifteen and is still trying to figure herself out.
My heart went out to Janna for what she has experienced with Farooq. Farooq is one of her best friend’s cousin, he attempted to rape her and then continued to stalk her in the book. He is highly respected in their community and Janna is too intimidated by his reputation to report him.
Although I liked Janna just fine, I wasn’t in love with her. She seemed immature at times and her crush on Jeremy often deterred her from seeing the big picture. It makes sense because she’s so young but it did throw me off of loving her character.
Janna’s parents are divorced – she lives with her single mother in an apartment. Her father lives in another state and is married with two sons. The social stigma that comes with divorce in a Muslim society is briefly touched upon but isn’t given much detail.
The side characters all played a role in trying to represent all types of Muslims but sometimes it felt like that was all they were there for. The ending did little to resolve their stories and left a lot of questions unanswered. I wish we got to spend more time with the side characters and had more glimpses of their personalities. But I understand that’s not always easy to do with a first person narrative.
Overall this book was enjoyable and the representation was on point.