Saints and Misfits: Feature Photo by Maliemania vis Instagram
Trigger Warning: This book discusses sexual assault in the Muslim community.
S.K. Ali is famous for her first book, Saints and Misfits, which is a 2018 William C. Morris Award finalist and winner of the APALA Honor Award and Middle East Book Honor Award. As an American Sri Lankan Muslim, Saints & Misfits resonated the most with me and made me feel seen. This is a book that I wish I had growing up and I am so ecstatic that there are writers out there writing about Muslim protagonists who are proud of who they are. Unfortunately, I often see characters who are written as Muslim but clearly there was no research done on Islam or the culture.
In Saints and Misfits, Janna is a teenager who deals with being sexually assaulted by a prominent member in her community. It’s been a couple of years since the events in Saints and Misfits and Jannah graduated from high school. She is a stronger person and she becomes more resourceful throughout the book.
The premise of the book is that Jenna is assaulted by a boy who is a hafidh in the community. A hafidh is someone who memorized the entire Qur’an. They are often given the highest levels of respect. Jenna is only 16 when it happens and it shows her story of processing it, telling her family, and the aftermath. It’s a story that is prominent and is not discussed enough within the Islamic community. The way S.K. Ali wrote it is gut-wrenching and Jenna is an incredibly brave young girl. If this is not a trigger for you, I urge you to read it! Furthermore, there is a sequel coming out next year called Misfit in Love which includes a big, fat Muslim wedding by the lake!
I loved that Janna is a head-strong flawed character. She’s not perfect and she doesn’t pretend to be. She made mistakes like taking off her hijab for a guy she had a crush on but she learns from them. She becomes a stronger person because of it.
Janna used to have a strong relationship with her Dad before she started wearing the hijab and before he married Linda. Before Saints & Misfits, I have never seen a book with a Muslim character who’s parents were divorced and I knew that it is a common thing especially today. Throughout the book, Janna is trying to come to terms with the fact that someone many people respected did an unspeakable thing to her at her friend’s house. It’s a tearjerker but if it isn’t a trigger for you, then this is a book everyone needs to read!
Another thing that I liked was the fact that her uncle, an Imam, took the time to answer everyone’s questions with a bit of humor. When he realized it was Janna who was assaulted he comforted her. The way the scenes were written especially with the characters who defended the rapist and the characters who stood up for Janna was extremely eye-opening. As Muslims, this book serves as a daily reminder not to put scholars and hafidhs on a pedestal. Do the research and listen to the victims when they try to speak up.
I also got an ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy) of the sequel, Misfit in Love and I loved seeing how much Janna has changed. She’s still the same but she’s older and more mature than in Saints & Misfits. Readers will also get to see how she’s been dealing with the assault and what happened with the case. If you’re looking for good, authentic Muslim representation, start with Saints & Misfits by S.K. Ali!