Saints and Misfits is a remarkable book about a conflicted teenage character who is dealing with her fair share of issues: her faith, a terrible secret, her first crush, and good grades.
Janna, an Arab Indian-American hijab wearing girl, with a lot on her plate. Her new crush is the crux and, sooner than she knows, interacts with all the aspects of her life that define her: her family, her faith, and her identity. Does she want to be a saint or a misfit? Or does she want to be something more? But there is more at stake, as her experiences lead her to uncover a monster who is pretending to be a saint, and Janna has to figure out if she exposes him or remains silent.
My absolute favorite thing from this book was the exploration of faith that Ali takes us on, through the main character of Janna. Janna is struggling with her relationship to her faith, not only trying to figure out how to interpret the rules, but also the difference between blind obedience and belief. Her perspective, and journey, on these issues is honest and refreshing, full of confusion, mistakes, and the necessity of speaking up.
(As someone who is not Muslim, this book was illuminating about the nuances of the Muslim faith. It was great to read about someone wearing a niqab, as well as her uncle’s opinions on certain religious questions intersecting with Islam. Here is an #ownvoices review I did find on Goodreads about the representation).
I knew I would love Janna, ever since I found out she was a lit nerd obsessed with Flannery O’Connor. I haven’t read O’Connor in so long, but what I loved about her writing was how she deals with justice. How fitting, that Janna is fixated on her. Janna is balancing two worlds, families, and faiths. How does her crush on Jeremy fit into her world of strict dating practices? How does she navigate her religious mother and her divorced dad’s stance on her hijab? And how does she manage to see the difference between someone who only goes through the religious motions versus true belief?
The writing was clever (discussions about The Tempest) and there were so many side characters who were both unique and wonderful to read. I actually cannot pick my favorite side character, because I think they were exceptionally written. Saints and Misfits also deals with an important issue of attempted rape, the effect it has on the victim, and the dilemma of speaking out. The ending was satisfying and left me wishing I could spend more time with Janna. That is one of the marks of a good book, when you don’t want it to end.
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