Publication Date: June 13, 2017
Publisher: Salaam Reads / Simon Schuster Books
Genre: YA Contemporary
Saints, Misfits, Monsters, and Mayhem is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.
How much can you tell about a person just by looking at them?
Janna Yusuf knows a lot of people can’t figure out what to make of her…an Arab Indian-American hijabi teenager who is a Flannery O’Connor obsessed book nerd, aspiring photographer, and sometime graphic novelist is not exactly easy to put into a box.
And Janna suddenly finds herself caring what people think. Or at least what a certain boy named Jeremy thinks. Not that she would ever date him—Muslim girls don’t date. Or they shouldn’t date. Or won’t? Janna is still working all this out.
While her heart might be leading her in one direction, her mind is spinning in others. She is trying to decide what kind of person she wants to be, and what it means to be a saint, a misfit, or a monster. Except she knows a monster…one who happens to be parading around as a saint…Will she be the one to call him out on it? What will people in her tightknit Muslim community think of her then?
Thank you to Simon Schuster and Netgalley for providing me with this ARC.
I don’t want to sound like I’m being overly dramatic here, but as an Egyptian/Muslim this book has meant so much to me before it was even up for request. I read the synopsis, saw that Janna was Muslim and half Arab, and thought: A MUSLIM ARAB IN AN UPCOMING YA BOOK? IS THIS REAL LIFE? Little did I know that Janna is actually half Egyptian (imagine the tears I shed!!!!!!!). It has everything from romance, friendship, family, struggle. Who said YA contemporary was dead?
This is my first time feeling like a book was written for me; seeing statements written in Arabic and not having to read the translation because I understand them, reading about traditions that are part of my own culture. This is an irreplaceable feeling.
“Why do I have to bear his evil in me? It’s his evil. So why is it me that’s hurting?”
Saints and Misfits is a multidimensional #ownvoices story that portrays the good and the bad of the Muslim community, the side that no one bother to speaks of. Did you know that Muslims get up in the morning, have breakfast, brush their teeth, fall in love, pay their bills, and have normal stories? Did you know that we aren’t just terrorists or NOT terrorists? Well, Saints and Misfits does just that. It shows you the men within our community that are despicable just like many others, but it also shows you the good ones, the ones who are 100% faithful without being on the extreme. It also shows you Muslims on various degrees of religiosity. This is a story of feminism, rape, interfaith, all intertwined in the complex characterization of our 15 year old narrator, hijabi, Janna Yusuf. And by the end of the book, you’re left with a tinge of hope that maybe everyone can start seeing Muslims just like that: not black or white, but people who don’t have to be on either side of the spectrum. That is why #ownvoices representation is very important, because we get to tell our own stories and not have them told by others who only see us as one thing or NOT that one thing.
1. The Characters:
Janna Yusuf is similar to me in so many ways that boy I had a hard time believing I wasn’t a real life version of her: just like her, my mum is single, raising a girl and a boy who are very close in age, and like her I am in love with a non-muslim boy. Janna is a hijabi, half Egyptian//half Indian who is a brooding, witty and a great and trusted narrator. She is hilarious, sarcastic, comes up with nicknames for everyone, and is just so relatable (she does stalk her crush on google earth, but i mean we’ve all done weirder things, right?) and in case I haven’t mentioned, a hijabi. Yes repeating because it’s very important for all the hijabi teenagers out there.
She was almost raped by one of her childhood friends’ cousin, and said cousin is one holy man who memorized the Quran (a big deal if you’re a muslim!!! like a big big deal) so this boy is pretty much untouchable with his holiness and all that. Janna struggles with outing Farooq, on the one hand she doesn’t want to tarnish the Muslim community’s reputation, and on the other, how would anyone believe her when he’s such a good guy? As someone who’s been sexually assaulted twice in a similar situation, I realized that Janna was very strong and I hope at some point I have half her strength in discussing what happened.
Her other struggle is her crush Jeremy, who is close to the monster aka Farooq and who is also non-muslim. Janna knows that this somehow won’t work at all, but she goes along with it at first because well…. the heart wants what it wants and all that. (let me not spoil anything on the romance, but i knew i was rooting for the right romance from the start!)
Muhammad, Janna’s brother, is probably my second favorite character after Janna. He takes the YA sibling award for me. He is so not your typical overly strict brother. He is just so freaking hilarious and understanding AND I WAS JUST IN LOVE WITH HIM. Muhammad knows about Janna’s non-muslim crush and doesn’t rat her out or reprimand her, but he teases her about it in a friendly way nonetheless. Their relationship is just the cutest, funniest sibling relationship ever. He is someone who realizes he chose the wrong passion after he went to college and realized he wanted to study philosophy. Knowing his dad won’t fund him, he still went along and took a year off to be able to fund himself and study what he loves. On top of that, he pursues the girl he loves in the Islamic traditional way, and gets overly excited to make wedding plans (seriously who is this guy??? WHY IS HE SO CUTE) Honestly, can I get a sequel about Muhammed and Saint Sarah’s story?? I just think I didn’t get enough of both of them.
Sausan, my niqabi ninja queen. I am just so glad this book decided to shed light on different parts of the Muslim community. Sausan is one of the coolest, chill characters ever. She is your leather-jacket, dark makeup, “I give zero fucks about everything!” except she’s actually…..well a niqabi. She has a sister who is banned in Saudi Arabia with her son and cannot leave, because she’s been done dirty by yet another “Muslim” man. Sausan is a big part of Janna’s character development, and she’s that girl who would have your back no matter what. Especially if you want to bring down a man. Seriously, the girl is a youtuber who tries to show the world that niqabis are actually cool unlike whatever frightening things people think of when they see niqabis. She is THAT cool.
Every single character had a particular dimension and was just so great to be honest. Janna’s uncle was a pious man who represents the elder Muslim community in such a positive and supportive way, and who tries to create cohesive relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims. Saint Sarah who is a lot more than meets the eye, the girl who dresses and speaks like a princess, and is one of the most religious characters, but actually has a very interesting past. Tatyana who is one of the most sincere best friends I’ve ever read about (seriously that one scene where she puts herself at risk just to let the bullies off Janna’s back, wow what a hero). Mr. Ram who was also a big part of Janna’s character development, with his deep insights and poetry memorization, who saw a lot more in Janna before she saw it in herself. And of course, Nuah!!!!! ❤ (some endless hearts) Nuah who tells bad jokes, helps at the community center, who is Muslim and Good and was there for Janna even when she was extremely mean to him. Bless Bless Bless!
“When I need to.”
“I get it. It’s on a needs basis. Very economical.” He’s got a big smile as he says this.
“It would be kind of freaky to have this huge smile pasted on all the time.” I arrange a freaky smile on my face, crossing my eyes to add to the effect.
2. Muslim Representation:
I’ve already discussed and mentioned how great it’s been reading about the various Muslim characters in Saints and Misfits. I think what I liked the most is that the book cites the Quran and the Prophet’s saying as proof. It feels like an easy guide for non-Muslims to understand a bit about our religion. Janna’s uncle and his website (which sounds like it would be pretty cool if it was real because I need it) are sort of a trusted source on the Islamic faith. The website receives submission by Muslims who have questions about Islam. Janna’s uncle answers them using a witty attitude that gets the point across, and wallahi made me want to invest more time in Islamic research if someone were to answer my questions like that.
There is another part where Janna realizes that Saint Sarah and Sausan are both driven into advocacy. Sausan is doing it for her sister, while Sarah is doing it for her love of religion. I loved this stark contrast between both characters that showed equal results at the end. I loved that Sarah is this passionate about religion, because she loves it purely from her heart and was not pushed or forced into it.
I enjoyed the fact that the characters get to go on a road trip to Chicago just to attend the Muslim Bowl Quiz because it shows you that you can be a very strong practicing Muslim, who does religious things for fun, that Muslims aren’t either extreme or very unfaithful.
Another important point is the fact that Janna and Sausan and the majority of the female characters in this story are wearing the hijab/niqab by choice. I really needed this to be written, to show that us Muslims are not oppressed by our religion and therefore forced into covering up.
“Something Mr. Ram said comes back to me: the why you do something is important.”
Please read this story. Buy this book. Promote it on social media. A hijabi, biracial girl, who was almost raped, this story sheds light on so many important aspects and yet the book is so funny, whimsical, and easy to read. I just want to reread it, love these characters more, urge them to continue being the best versions of themselves. This book just holds a very important part of my heart and I can’t wait for its release so I can buy my own copy and annotate all my favorite parts.