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Saints and Misfits
Table of Contents
About The Book
A William C. Morris Award Finalist
An Entertainment Weekly Best YA Book of 2017
Saints and Misfits is a “timely and authentic” (School Library Journal, starred review) debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.
There are three kinds of people in my world:
1. Saints, those special people moving the world forward. Sometimes you glaze over them. Or, at least, I do. They’re in your face so much, you can’t see them, like how you can’t see your nose.
2. Misfits, people who don’t belong. Like me—the way I don’t fit into Dad’s brand-new family or in the leftover one composed of Mom and my older brother, Mama’s-Boy-Muhammad.
Also, there’s Jeremy and me. Misfits. Because although, alliteratively speaking, Janna and Jeremy sound good together, we don’t go together. Same planet, different worlds.
But sometimes worlds collide and beautiful things happen, right?
3. Monsters. Well, monsters wearing saint masks, like in Flannery O’Connor’s stories.
Like the monster at my mosque.
People think he’s holy, untouchable, but nobody has seen under the mask.
I’m in the water. Only my eyes are visible, and I blow bubbles to ensure the rest of me stays submerged until the opportune time. Besides the lifeguard watching from his perch, there’s a gaggle of girls my age patrolling the beach with younger siblings in tow. They pace in their flip-flops and bikinis, and I wait.
The ideal time is when no one’s around and no one’s looking. But right now there’s a little girl cross-legged on wooden bleachers peering at me from beneath a hand held aloft at her forehead, a smile on her face. I can’t tell if the smile is a result of how long she’s been watching me bob here in the water.
To check whether she’s staring, I test her with a long gaze to the left of the bleachers, where Dad and his wife Linda are barbecuing. Their oldest son, Logan, round and berry-brown from a day in the sun, is digging a hole nearby, while the newest addition, Luke, lies on a quilt wearing a swim diaper.
Dad said I’d love it here because the beachfront cottage they’d rented was one of the only two Cherie and Ed had let out this weekend. Secluded. Serene. Safe.
Ha. Cherie and Ed forgot to mention that the beach portion doesn’t actually belong to them and is public property at all hours of the day. Party central.
I look back, and, hallelujah, the girl on the bleachers is gone. There’s also a lull on the shore now. The lifeguard’s turned to talk to someone behind him, and the beach girls are on the far right, peering at a sand castle.
I stand and cringe at the sucking sound as my swimsuit sticks to me, all four yards of the spandex-Lycra blend of it. Waterfalls gush out of the many hems on the outfit, and, as I hobble out of the lake, more secret pockets release their water. I’m a drippy, squelchy mess, stumbling toward Dad and Linda, picking up tons of sand as I move. I refuse to look around in case I see someone, everyone, watching me.
Maybe my face reveals something, because Dad starts right away.
“Janna, why do you have to wear that thing? You could have said, No, I’m not wearing your burkini, Mom.” He waves around long tongs as he speaks.
“Mom didn’t get it for me. I ordered it online.”
“I saw her hand it to you as we were packing the car.”
“Because I’d left it on the hall table, Dad.”
“It’s her kind of thing. What’s wrong with the way Linda’s dressed?” He snaps the tongs at Linda. She’s wearing a one-piece, just-had-a-baby, flouncy-at-the-hips number, and, really, I’d rather be in my burkini. It’s black and sleek. Sure, when it gets wet, you kind of resemble a droopy sea lion, but at least it isn’t pink and lime green like Linda’s swimsuit is.
“Linda, you look great.” I smile at her, and she smooths out her flounces.
“Too bad you’re not her size—she could have lent you one of her suits, right, Linda?”
“Dad, I won’t wear it. I’m a hijabi, remember?” I take a plate and add a piece of chicken from the platter.
“At the beach? Even at the beach?” Dad’s gesticulating again and looking around—for what, I don’t know. When he spies a woman unfolding a lounge chair nearby and starts talking louder, I realize it’s for an audience. He wants an audience while he rants at me.
Maybe I should’ve listened to Mom and not come. My first vacation with Dad’s family since my parents split when I was eleven and it’s like I’m a visitor among the earthlings frolicking on a beach in Florida.
Before this, I’d only spent the odd weekend here and there with Dad at his house in Chicago. I was “Daddy’s princess” back then.
The woman in the chair listens intently as Dad lectures. Linda’s got a hand on his arm, and it’s traveling up to his shoulder with a firmer grip, but he’s still talking.
“How come you have to hide your God-given body?” He turns a few burgers over. He’s wearing a white T-shirt and red shorts over his God-given body. “It’s not me who forces her to dress like that, that’s for sure.”
The woman looks at me, then at Dad and opens a book.
Linda places a hand on my glistening black back and hands me a can of pop. “I’ll get you a burger when they’re done,” she whispers.
I move to sit on the bleachers before I realize the beach girls are sauntering this way again. I’m a swirl of sand art against a black canvas.
I duck under the wooden slats of the seats. Cradling my plate on crossed legs, I flip back the swim cap that’s attached to my suit and undo my hair. Sand trickles down with the beads of water. Some of it falls onto my chicken.
Flannery O’Connor, my favorite author: That’s who I need right now.
Flannery would take me away from here and deposit me into her fictitious world crawling with self-righteous saints and larger-than-life misfits. And I’d feel okay there because Flannery took care of things. Justice got served.
I forgot to pack her gigantic book of short stories because everything was last minute. I’d wanted to escape so badly that when Dad mentioned this trip with his family, I’d asked, “Can I come?” without thinking.
Mom had tried to put her foot down about taking a vacation right before exams, but, luckily for me, my brother Muhammad is home for the summer from college. He talked her into letting me come. She listens to practically everything he says.
If it had been only me telling her I needed to get away, far away from Eastspring, she would’ve talked over me.
She didn’t know I had to get away from a monster. And the truth is no one can know.
- Publisher: Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (June 13, 2017)
- Length: 336 pages
- ISBN13: 9781481499248
- Grades: 9 and up
- Ages: 14 - 99
- Lexile ® HL710L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®
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Raves and Reviews
*"Ali pens a touching exposition of a girl's evolution from terrified victim to someone who knows she's worthy of support and is brave enough to get it. Set in a multicultural Muslim family, this book is long overdue, a delight for readers who will recognize the culture and essential for those unfamiliar with Muslim experiences. This quiet read builds to a satisfying conclusion; readers will be glad to make space in their hearts—and bookshelves—for Janna Yusuf."
– Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW
*"This timely and authentic portrayal is an indisputable purchase in the realistic fiction category."
– School Library Journal, STARREV REVIEW
*"Ali’s debut offers a much-needed, important perspective in Janna, whose Muslim faith is pivotal but far from the only part of her multifaceted identity. . . . For readers unfamiliar with Muslim traditions, Ali offers plenty of context clues and explanations, though she always keeps the story solidly on Janna’s struggle to maintain friendships, nurse a crush, deal with bullies and predatory people in her life, and discover her own strength in the process. A wide variety of readers will find solidarity with Janna, and not just ones who wear a hijab."
– Booklist, STARRED REVIEW
"[A] sympathetic and thoughtful study of a girl’s attempt to find her place in a complicated world."
– Publishers Weekly
"Ali brings to life a nuanced intersection of culture, identity, and independence as Janna endures the typicalities of high school and the particularities of her evolving home life alongside the insidious impingement of rape culture. Readers will cheer Janna’s eventual empowerment."
– Horn Book
"[R]eaders . . .will appreciate Janna’s finding of a way to embrace her anger, receive support, and keep her faith. "
– Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
“Saints and Misfits is an engaging portrayal of a young woman and the abundance of differing, loving people who make up her extended family.”
– Shelf Awareness
Awards and Honors
- CCBC Choices (Cooperative Children's Book Council)
- Kansas NEA Reading Circle List High School Title
- Nutmeg Book Award Nominee (CT)
- NYPL Best Books for Teens
- High School Sequoyah Book award Master List (OK)
- TAYSHAS Reading List (TX)
- APALA Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature
- Amelia Bloomer Selection List - TOP TEN
- Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year Selection Title
- ALA/YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults - Top Ten
- ALA/William C. Morris Award Finalist
- Isinglass Award Nominee
- Land of Enchantment Black Bear Book Award Nominee
Resources and Downloads
High Resolution Images
- Book Cover Image (jpg): Saints and Misfits Hardcover 9781481499248
- Author Photo (jpg): S. K. Ali Photograph by Andrea Stenson(0.1 MB)
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