During a heated political time, Ali has created a story for all cultures meant to explain the values and customs of what it means for one Muslim community and Muslim woman in America. Growing up with a more traditional Muslim family, Janna has to reconcile crushing on a non-Muslim boy, high school bullies, unsupportive friends, and conflicting emotions about being sexually assaulted by a monster—a covert monster who receives high praise in the Muslim community. Those who seem pious are anything but, and while Janna battles contradictions in her faith, she must also struggle with everyday life of being a teenage girl, including a nosy mother and annoying older brother. An honorable multicultural high school read, I have to admit that this story lost its momentum. I found myself skimming through dialogue. This slow pace fails with the quickened and perfect ending—unrealistic in its perfection. Blink and all of the angst and struggle disappears. The saints, misfits, and monster analogy/chapter labeling makes the novel more juvenile in this teen world. Amina’s Voice and It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel possess more poignancy tied in with historical value. I did enjoy Mr. Ram’s secret handshakes and Janna’s duty to correct her uncle’s overly formal responses to Muslim-American questions; the relationships Ali builds are solid, endearing, and relatable. Saints and Misfits is a commendable debut novel but one that I hesitate to recommend, even though I have seen great praise thus far.
I would like to thank NetGalley and Salaam Reads/Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing for providing me with a free ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali (Salaam Reads/Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing, 2017)