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?
Description taken from Goodreads.
I had hoped that Saints and Misfits would turn out to be a lot like When Dimple Met Rishi. I wanted the same heartfelt enthusiasm for one’s own culture the way Rishi had, and I definitely wouldn’t mind a bit more of the conflict that Dimple faced in learning to accept both her background and her future. Of course, with a little bit of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak and Islam mixed in.
And in some ways, I did get what I asked for.
This book is incredibly eloquent in illustrating Janna’s relationships, struggles, and loyalty and love for Islam, no matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient it can be at times. In a world where there isn’t a whole lot of positive representation for Islam and for the Muslims living in the United States, this is an important read. If you’re looking for a great portrayal of Muslim day-to-day life, in a way that isn’t villainized or too much but funny and real, then this is the book for you.
But I did want a little bit more from it. I felt as if Saints and Misfits didn’t have the same soul that When Dimple Met Rishi had. It was fun and upbeat, and I enjoyed getting to know Janna, but in the end, I didn’t truly care about the characters or their story. It was a more a dialogue and look into Islam than it was a novel. Even, or maybe especially, the saints/misfits/monsters theme was way overplayed. The harassment Janna faced felt too much like a plot device instead of the serious issue that it is, to the point where I wondered if the humor tried to poke fun at the whole thing.
I seem to be in the minority on this one, so I’ll still be recommending it. I think it’s great for a diverse read and a valuable addition to the YA community, but it isn’t the full package. If you’re looking for a truly phenomenal read on harassment and sexual assault, I would rather recommend books like Amber Smith’s The Way I Used To Be and Courtney Stevens’ Faking Normal. 2.5 stars.