Saints and Misfits is a coming-of-age story of sorts for Janna, a hijab-wearing teenage girl trying to do well at school while crushing on a boy who isn’t Muslim. At the same time, she’s struggling with the fact that a boy who is highly respected in her mosque tried to sexually assault her.
I enjoyed this story a lot. I liked getting to know Janna and her life and her friends and family, and I especially enjoyed seeing her grow as the story progressed. The attempted rape takes place pretty early on in the story, and at first I really wanted her to be or have an Alex Craft from The Female of the Species to come in and castrate the guy when Janna couldn’t. But I texted that to my friend Jenica of Firewhiskey Reader, and she responded that, while she agreed, she also really liked watching Janna find her voice in this book, and I think that hits on exactly what makes this book so special.
As satisfying as it would be to see Janna giver her attacker exactly what he deserves, it’s all too easy to see why she doesn’t want to say anything, why she thinks it’s her fault, and why she doesn’t think anyone will believe her. And those things combined make for an incredible journey, though of course I don’t want to spoil anything! But I was really impressed with Janna’s story and how it was told and how she grew throughout the book.
I also really appreciated learning more about Janna’s experience as a Muslim teen and how she struggled with having a crush on someone who didn’t share a faith that was clearly important to her. And Ali included some really insightful comments about Islam, like how hyperaware Janna is that telling any non-Muslims about her assault will unfairly reflect poorly on her entire community.
I will say, this book wasn’t perfect for me. While I generally liked Janna and her relationships with her friends and family, I sometimes struggled to connect with her and occasionally found her relationships with her friends baffling. I really don’t have anything concrete to point to as to why I felt this way, but something just pulled me out of the story every once in a while.
Probably the biggest drawback to me was the lack of conclusion with some of the side characters. I can’t go too in-depth without spoiling things, but at least two of Janna’s relationships with other characters were either wrapped up way too quickly or had no resolution at all. Not that I needed a bow, but it felt abrupt and like something was forgotten rather than intentional.
Overall, though, I thought this was a really good contemporary YA story and I really liked the experience of reading it after The Female of the Species and seeing how they deal with similar topics in vastly different ways. Even without that context, though, I think this is worth checking out if you like YA contemporary, and it was another excellent pick for Feminist Lit February.