A Book Review by Carlos Herbozo, West Orange Public Library Teen Book Reviewer
S.K. Ali's novel Saints and Misfits is a story about Muslim faith, identity, and social issues, which stars a Muslim teenage girl as the main character. Her name is Janna Yusuf and she is an Arab Indian-American hijabi, which means she wears an article of clothing known as a hijab on her head, for religious purposes. Janna is convinced that there are three types of people in her life: saints, misfits, and monsters. To her, saints are the people moving her world forward. For example, Mr. Ram, a senior citizen who Janna volunteers to spend hours with on Thursdays. Mr. Ram gives Janna inspirational verses from some of the finest poetry he can recall from memory. Janna considers herself a misfit, because she doesn't feel like she fits into her father's brand new family, or the one that was left over, which includes Janna's mother and engaged older brother, Muhammad, who is a university student. And then there are monsters, like the one person who everyone at the local mosque thinks is untouchable and holy but tried to assault Janna. This is a fact that only she knows about it and it plagues throughout the entire novel. At her high school, Janna spends part of her time crushing on Jeremy, a school athlete who is non-Muslim, for which Janna also considers him a misfit.
The book deals with many social topics, having to do with both the Islamic community and other topics. Janna's uncle writes an advice column where he responds to people's submissions with witty and insightful feedback every week, using the rules of Islam as his guidelines. S.K. Ali finds a good balance between time in the book spent at home with either family, time spent outside at either the mosque or Seniors Game Club, and time spent at high school with Tats, a close friend of Janna's, all of which helps make sure the story never gets bland or boring. This can make some events feel heavy when you first read them and in contrast others can feel rushed but meaningful. Regardless, the story is about a self-empowered young woman who simply needed a nudge in the right direction, and despite the amount of temptation and a few unrealistic expectations, managed to channel her anger, receive support, and stand up for herself, all while preserving the standards of her faith. Patient readers will enjoy this book and its many tough topics, as well as the humor sprinkled here and there by the author, often revealed through the intriguing thoughts Janna has as she lives her life.
Recommended for fans of realistic fiction and juvenile humor.