CW’s: Attempted Rape, Sexual Assault, Islamophobia (challenged)
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?
5 Reasons You Should Read Saints and Misfits
“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”
1. Janna is a great, relatable, complex protagonist, I loved her 💗 It was so very easy to relate to Janna as our narrator, because she was entirely realistic. She was complex, she had flaws and she was struggling like we all do. It was great to follow a character that was so well-fleshed out, it definitely helped me get so invested in her story. I loved Janna, I wanted to see where her story would go and I really, really wanted to hug her so badly a lot of times! I loved that Janna had a lot of interests, it made her even more complex: she’s a bookworm, she’s a photographer (sometimes for her community as well!) and a very smart girl dedicated to school, studying a lot! Furthermore, our protagonist is struggling with a lot of things: she gets panic attacks as her abuser is still around and connected to almost everyone in her environment. Janna also develops feelings for a Non-Muslim boy and struggles to comprehend how that fits in with who she is and what she believes in. It was great to see that her entire storyline wasn’t taken overtaken by her feelings for Jeremy, sure they were discussed, but I felt like the focus was definitely elsewhere. I also liked how things ended up for them: in my opinion it was very realistic and I’m glad that the author resolved things this way!
2. We get to see a lot of her environment: family, her community and life 💗 To start this off I of course cannot speak on the Muslim/hijabi representation (I can tell you it is ownvoices though), therefore I direct you to Reviews here, here and here that can speak on this way better! What I liked about Janna’s environment was that we saw a lot of her religion, how she interacted with her Muslim community and how there were both ups and downs. Of course the Monster is a bad part, but there were so many amazing people like her uncle (who is a literal treasure), Nuah and her family which showed that each community has both good and bad people, and isn’t only bad or only good. I also liked seeing Janna interact with her family and how complicated it was. Her parents are divorced and she sometimes clashes with her mother or her brother, but at the end of the day Janna loves them dearly and they support her. Then there was Mr. Ram, an old man that she takes care of – he was an absolute gem as well, caring a lot about Janna and being very kind to her. What I liked is that their relationship was very realistic – Janna wasn’t always that interested in what he had to say as there is a huge age difference. Another thing I loved was that Janna’s high school actually seemed realistic, meaning that she actually studied. I find that often this part gets neglected in a school setting, so I was happy that we saw how Janna actually had a lot of homework to do and had to put in an effort.
3. SO many amazing female friendships! 💗 I was not prepared for the large amount of totally amazing female friendships that we get to see. If you don’t know: I’m always 100% here for that so I was ecstatic! Janna has a lot of amazing friend that each shone in their own way and were very well-fleshed out! You can definitely root for a lot more character than our narrator herself, as there are a lot of amazing girls who impress with their complexity and flawed. Janna’s best friend in school is Tats and despite being very different from one another, both share a strong friendship! Now Tats is very much the opposite from her friend, she is open, bold and not afraid to fight for her friend. That however can also drive her to make a scene and not know when to stop. It’s all coming from her deep caring for other though. Throughout the book there are of course ups and downs for them and scenes when Tats didn’t 100% understand Janna, but she tried and the end was amazing!
Then there is Soon-Lee, a girl in Janna’s advanced math class that she studies and is friends with. Both of them face the rest of them class together, as the boys give them a hard time for being good at math and have driven out all the other girls by now. I love how both stood against them! Another girl at school Janna becomes friends with is Sandra. They used to be friendly but then Sandra started getting bullied. However, Janna befriends her again despite other girls’ disapproval. I felt so sorry for Sandra, because she got quite and withdrawn after being horribly bullied and I was glad that those two became friends!
There are of course also friendships that Janna has in her community, a few of them turn out to be more toxic, but I won’t go into spoilery detail here. However, her relationship with Sausun was very interesting! She tells her about her sexual assault, something Janna has never done before. Sausun isn’t one for comforting, instead she wants to fight, she is angry at the injustice in this world and wants to fight against them. Then she also tentatively begins to get friendly with “Saint Sarah”, who she starts out not being so fond of. Janna sees Sarah as this perfect muslim girl she can never be, but we get to know another side of her and that was great to see! It was so easy to like Sarah, because she’s so friendly, passionate, calm and dedicated to her community – she’s definitely someone I would want to be friends with, as Sarah is incredibly supportive.
4. The book is hard to read but very empowering as well 💗 Janna is a survivor of sexual assault and she’s still trying to cope with what happened. This is made worse by the fact that the Monster (aka the guy who attempted to rape her) is still in her community and social circles – he is her best friend’s cousin and also friends with the guy she likes as well as her brother. It’s almost impossible to escape her abuser and Janna herself deals with a lot of self-blame and fears that made my heart ache! She’s afraid of seeking help or telling anyone as the Monster is a highly respected member in her community and she fears that no one will believe her. However, throughout the book Janna grows and is able to let go of all the self-blame she has been putting on herself. With the help of a new friend – Sausun, a niqabi girl and total badass – she is able to face her fears and finally confront them. The end of the book therefore also has a lot of empowerment, that I really felt seeping into me! Sausun s so strong and inspiring, planning much more than helping Janna. It was amazing seeing both of them take charge of their life and hold the monster accountable for his actions!
5. You cannot help but get totally invested in the story 💗 I ‘accidentally’ read this in one sitting, because it was impossible to stop reading! No kidding, I started this in the evening and then read for 5 hours straight because I was so sucked in and kept telling me ‘just one more page’ – it was glorious!! Therefore, I can definitely attest that Saints ans Misfits is a read that will draw you right in, it’s very easy to get invested in Janna’s story and very hard to stop before you reach the end and find out how everything comes together.
IN CONCLUSION: You need to read Saints and Misfits, because it’s a book that you cannot miss! I feel like the book is severely underrated, which is why I decided to do this spotlight. Janna is such a relatable, complex character and you will immediately get invested in her story and her struggles! The book also contains a lot of great female friendships and in the end is very empowering, even though it deals with a lot of heavy topics! Please go read this book, it definitely deserves more attention!
Have you read Saints and Misfits? What is your fave book with a Muslim Protagonist? 💗