Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 14 to 18
- Grade: 9 to 12
- Reading age: 14 to 18
A William C. Morris Award Finalist
An Entertainment Weekly Best YA Book of 2017
Saints and Misfits is a “timely and authentic” (School Library Journal, starred review) debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.
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.
About the author
S. K. Ali is the author of Saints and Misfits, a finalist for the American Library Association’s 2018 William C. Morris Award and the winner of the APALA Honor Award and Middle East Book Honor Award; and Love from A to Z, a Today show’s Read with Jenna Book Club selection. Both novels were named best YA books of the year by various media including Entertainment Weekly and Kirkus Reviews. You can find Sajidah online at SKAlibooks.com, and follow her on Instagram @SKAlibooks and on Twitter at @SajidahWrites.
Excerpt: Saints and Misfits (by (author) S.K. Ali)
*"This timely and authentic portrayal is an indisputable purchase in the realistic fiction category."
School Library Journal, STARREV REVIEW
"Ali brings to life a nuanced intersection of culture, identity, and independence as Janna endures the typicalities of high school and the particularities of her evolving home life alongside the insidious impingement of rape culture. Readers will cheer Janna’s eventual empowerment."
*"Ali’s debut offers a much-needed, important perspective in Janna, whose Muslim faith is pivotal but far from the only part of her multifaceted identity. . . . For readers unfamiliar with Muslim traditions, Ali offers plenty of context clues and explanations, though she always keeps the story solidly on Janna’s struggle to maintain friendships, nurse a crush, deal with bullies and predatory people in her life, and discover her own strength in the process. A wide variety of readers will find solidarity with Janna, and not just ones who wear a hijab."
Booklist, STARRED REVIEW
"[R]eaders . . .will appreciate Janna’s finding of a way to embrace her anger, receive support, and keep her faith. "
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
“Saints and Misfits is an engaging portrayal of a young woman and the abundance of differing, loving people who make up her extended family.”
*"Ali pens a touching exposition of a girl's evolution from terrified victim to someone who knows she's worthy of support and is brave enough to get it. Set in a multicultural Muslim family, this book is long overdue, a delight for readers who will recognize the culture and essential for those unfamiliar with Muslim experiences. This quiet read builds to a satisfying conclusion; readers will be glad to make space in their hearts—and bookshelves—for Janna Yusuf."
Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW
"[A] sympathetic and thoughtful study of a girl’s attempt to find her place in a complicated world."
Complex and well-crafted fast read.So this was incredible. It's the experience of a Muslim-American girl navigating high school, dating, identity, appearance and modesty, bullying, sexism and assault . . . part of what I appreciated about it was the breadth and complexity of the (real-world) world-building the author did to tell this story. We often talk about excellent world-building in fantasy or science fiction, but it takes incredible skill to represent real people and experiences in a way that's recognizable and meaningful.
Ali does a great job with a wide cast, as well as the main character. Everyone has dimension, complexity, a role within the narrative, but aren't limited to a one-note portrayal for the purposes of getting a point across. The MC has a lot to work through, from the pressure of exams and achieving a much-desired academic future, to coping with the expectations of her family and religious community, expectations that she places on herself, assault by someone seen as unassailably righteous within her community, and adolescent explorations of identity such as unsuitable crushes, image-crafting, social media and self-presentation.
In 2017, it's worth noting that this portrayal of a Muslim teen participating in an active Muslim faith community, observing religious practices and exploring her personal attitudes, comfort level, and beliefs around hijab specifically is an unusual and diverse perspective in English-language mass-market fiction. As an outsider to the Muslim community, I found the story, the characters and the scenarios easily comprehensible, and appreciated the opportunity to see through Jana's eyes and get a different perspective on her community. While it's useful to understand historical and cultural influences on today's climate, I felt like the narrative was a helpful reminder that choices around fashion, self-presentation and religious practice are also made on an individual basis, and that teens (and adults) need space to explore those choices and may bring new meaning to them.
Ali wove many influences including, notably, the work of Flannery O'Connor into the narrative to craft a story that introduces questions and themes without hitting you over the head with them, which I appreciated. Questions like how to have integrity, how to be a person you can respect, within the framework of wider expectations and personal choice. While there was a lot going on in the book, I found it to be a surprisingly fast, engaging and even, particularly at the end, emotional read. Also: Nua & Jana flirting is one of the most adorable teen romances I've read.
Bonus points: Canadian author! I don't read a lot of YA contemporary, but I'll be keeping an eye out for more from this author; smart & exceedingly well crafted read.