It is no secret that I’m a fan of YA books – especially as a palette cleanser between grim mysteries, but I can heartily recommend Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali for this week’s New Title Tuesday as more than just a place keepe. It’s light-hearted for the most part, yet Ali tackles serious and potentially dangerous situations that many teens face.
Publisher’s Summary: Saints and Misfits is an unforgettable 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.
As a teacher, I was always encouraged and nostalgic when I saw students happily learning about their religion be it through the process of confirmation, studying for a bar or bat mitzvah, or fasting and doing charitable acts during Ramadan. As an adolescent, I fondly remember being infused and energized by the mysteries revealed during my own confirmation studies.
Saints and Misfits realistically reflects that youthful vigor; and it’s especially gratifying when we hear that the US is growing more secular with each passing day.
The characters in Saints and Misfits are not unlike the students (Muslim or otherwise) that I taught – some observant, others not so much, some who easily and proudly discuss their spiritual practices and others who say they do not attend any religious services.
In our country founded on freedom of religion, it’s important to understand each other. and Saints and Misfits provides context and explains some Islamic religious practices and terminology with subtlety and finesse to those of us who may not recognize Arabic words or the significance of a particular act.
Ali illustrates the difficulty of discovering and behaving in accordance with religious beliefs. As the book begins, Janna has joined her Indian father and (presumably white) step-mother on a short vacation. It’s clearly the first time Janna has worn a burkini. She waits until no one is looking before coming out of the water; she “cringes at the sucking sound” as her swimsuit sticks to her, “all four yards of spandex-Lycra blend of it.”
Her father, aware of the audience of beach-goers, makes sure that no one thinks he made his daughter wear it, “How come you have to hide your God-given body?” She doesn’t answer him, but Janna makes it clear this was her decision, and we also learn that she simply doesn’t like pink and lime “flouncy at the hips” bathing suits like her step-mother wears. Ali also points to another reason that Janna wants to hide – “to get away from a monster.”
The pacing and balance of Saints and Misfits make it a quick read. Ali exposes how major and minor events of sexual harassment and misogyny are more threatening and frequent than we’d like to believe.
At its heart though, Saints and Misfits shows us that although we may be very different from each other, we have more to gain by understanding our and accepting our differences than fearing them.
Happy Reading, Susan C.
You might also enjoy:
Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah – Year Eleven at an exclusive prep school in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, would be tough enough, but it is further complicated for Amal when she decides to wear the hijab, the Muslim head scarf, full-time as a badge of her faith–without losing her identity or sense of style.
That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim – High school has ended, and Shabnam Qureshi is facing a summer of loneliness and boredom. She’s felt alienated from her gutsy best friend, Farah, ever since Farah started wearing the Muslim head scarf without even bothering to discuss it with Shabnam first. But no one else comes close to understanding her, especially not her parents. All Shabnam wants to do is get through the summer. Get to Penn. Begin anew. Not look back. That is, until she meets Jamie. In her quest to figure out who she really is and what she really wants, Shabnam looks for help in an unexpected place her family.
My So Called Life The Complete Series – Angela Chase is a teenage girl who struggles with the problems of growing up, high school, and family life. Starring: Bess Armstrong, Wilson Cruz, Claire Danes, Devon Gummersall, Tom Irwin, A.J. Langer, Jared Leto, Devon Odessa, Lisa Wilhoit.
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