When I stumbled upon S.K. Ali’s Saints and Misfits a few weeks ago, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was such a delight to read that I wish there still more chapters to read. Saints and Misfits shares the story of Janna, a hijabi teen whose Indian father leads a secular life while her Egyptian mother continues to be a practicing Muslim. Janna is dealing with criticism from some of her Muslim friends for hanging out with non-Muslims, lack of understanding from some non-Muslim friends who don’t understand why she wears a hijabthe fear and frustration of being sexually assaulted by Farooq, the cousin of one of her closest friends and the sort of “perfect” boy that all parents adore. Farooq spends the better part of the novel stalking Janna and doing everything he can to make sure that he can have some influence over her. And then there is Janna’s crush on Jeremy, a non-Muslim boy at her school, her older brother moving back home and deciding to court Sarah–who’s just a little too perfect and has secrets of her own, Tats–one of Janna’s non-Muslim friends who is just a little boy-crazy and trying to play matchmaker between Janna and Jeremy, And Sausun, her badass niqab-wearing friend who is trying to change the way people think of niqab-wearing girls with her YouTube channel, Niqabi Ninjas.
I love how Ali makes sure that the reader understands that Janna’s situation isn’t very different from any other teenage girl: Janna is Every Girl, dealing with her own identity crisis, with wanting to fall in love, with worrying about if she is popular. And I loved how effortlessly this was conveyed to the reader. I also loved how Ali convey’s Janna’s struggles with her faith. This is handled so deftly, without ever veering into the heavy-handedness one often sees in stories that touch upon faith and any doubts related to it.
Another wonderful thing about Saints & Misfits is the characterization. Each character in the story is so well-portrayed and unique. You never have that foggy sensation of not knowing who is who. They all stand out. And I loved the portrayal of Janna’s relationship with Mr. Ram, whom she takes to the senior citizen center every week. Even when Janna sometimes took their friendship for granted, it was obvious that she cared about him and paid heed to the advice he gave her.
Would I recommend reading Saints & Misfits? You betcha! And not only would I recommend it–if I were still teaching, it would be required reading for my students *and* their parents. Definitely a 5-star read!