Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali

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by S.K. Ali
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Oh the teen angst! There’s so much going on in this book. Janna’s crush on a senior, Jeremy, is compounded by his bitchy cousin Lauren’s plot against her, and also the fact that he’s not Muslim. To make things worse, Janna’s older brother Muhammad has moved back in with them, forcing her to share a room with their mother (their dad, who is Indian, lives in nearby Chicago with his new family). Muhammad is trying to get engaged to a seemingly-perfect Muslim girl Janna refers to in her head as Saint Sarah, but who turns out to have secrets of her own. As she navigates all of this, Janna tries to lean on her friends Fizz and Tats (Fidda and Tatyana) and also stay away from the guy who molested her, Fizz’s cousin Farooq. I don’t want that part to get buried because it’s the undercurrent of the whole story – an older guy molests Janna days before the story starts. It’s not quite as dark a tale as Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, but it’s just as powerful and important.

There were very few clearly good and clearly bad characters, and they were both Muslim and non-Muslim. I have to say, though, I’m still confused about whether Jeremy actually liked Janna and wasn’t in on the tricks on her, and also some of Janna’s backstory with her classmate Sandra. When we met Sandra, it seemed like they had never talked before, but by the end of the book it turned out that they used to be close friends. There were also a few technology mentions that will date this book quickly, and one that didn’t really make any sense, which was that Janna and her friends were all very active on Facebook (most teens are not on Facebook). She does mention Instagram, but that will also go out of style pretty soon.

I liked the adults, including Janna’s elderly neighbor, Mr. Ram, whom she keeps company sometimes. Mr. Ram passes away by the end of the book, and I appreciated how his death, funeral, and Janna’s mourning were addressed. And of course I saw the “surprise” nice-guy crush coming at the very first mention of him, but that was lovely anticipation to watch throughout the book. I also loved that the story taught me more about Islam, from specific words and concepts to greetings, religious tenets (Janna, Sarah, Sausan, and others are on an Islam Quiz Bowl team), and dress. I was right there with her, choosing to cover her hair and then feeling naked when video of herself is posted online or when her molester sees her hair uncovered. (Sausan wants to wear niqab and even makes a convincing argument for the power of choosing to wear the head-to-toe dress in which only your eyes are seen.) Overall a powerful story and one that is long overdue: more voices of young Muslims in America.

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