I read two novels back-to-back that are both really hard for me to review, so I’m going to stick them together in one post.
Saints and Misfits
Saints and Misfits 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?
Genre: YA Contemporary
First published: 2017
Rep: Egyptian-Indian-American Hijabi MC, other Muslim characters with varying head-covers (including a Niqabi girl), other characters of colour
Ownvoices: Yes (Indian-American Hijabi)
Content warnings: Attempted rape, sexual assault, victim-blaming (challenged), racism (challenged), Islamomisia (challenged), amatonormativity/aromisia
Saints and Misfits is largely about a Muslim girl grappling with how to handle almost being raped by someone well-respected by the community. She also grapples with toxic friendships and being attracted to someone when she’s not supposed to date anyone she’s not about to marry… especially when the person in question is not Muslim. But even those are coloured by the attempted rape, because her attacker is part of many of the same social groups that she is.
A huge part of this novel deals with shame, and the way victims of sexual violence are made to feel ashamed for something that was not their fault. This is something Janna fights throughout the novel as she tries to understand why she feels like she has done something wrong.
You will want to shank the young man who assaulted her on a regular basis. A great thing about how this was handled, though, was that Janna was not forced to be strong all the time. She was allowed to panic and lash out at times, and she spent a lot of time beating herself up for not being as strong as she thought she should be.
This novel tackles a lot of hard topics, but it was also nice to see a protagonist who’s a photographer. I live for protagonists with creative hobbies.
(One thing that bothered me about this book was the assertion that one of the characters *had* to have had a crush on someone because it was “normal.” This was a passing remark so I don’t want to go on about it too much, but stuff like that can be alienating to aromantic folks, especially with the way it was phrased in the book. I still recommend the book, but aros should be aware of that.)
Written in the Stars
A heart-wrenching tale of forbidden love
‘A wonderfully complex love story unlike any you’ve read before. Saeed has given a novel that is both entertaining and important.”—Matt de la Peña, New York Times bestselling author
Naila’s conservative immigrant parents have always said the same thing: She may choose what to study, how to wear her hair, and what to be when she grows up—but they will choose her husband. Following their cultural tradition, they will plan an arranged marriage for her. And until then, dating—even friendship with a boy—is forbidden. When Naila breaks their rule by falling in love with Saif, her parents are livid. Convinced she has forgotten who she truly is, they travel to Pakistan to visit relatives and explore their roots. But Naila’s vacation turns into a nightmare when she learns that plans have changed—her parents have found her a husband and they want her to marry him, now! Despite her greatest efforts, Naila is aghast to find herself cut off from everything and everyone she once knew. Her only hope of escape is Saif . . . if he can find her before it’s too late.
Genre: YA Contemporary
First published: 2015
Rep: Pakistani-American MC
Content warnings: Forced marriage, abuse, drugging, forcefeeding, rape
I tore through this book, staying up late to finish it. It’s a hard read, especially around the halfway mark. I don’t cry very often while reading books, but this one made me cry a lot.
This is an infuriating book for so many reasons, but they are the right reasons. Naila is put through a lot of awful things by the people who are supposed to love and care for her. The terrible thing is, though, is that her family thought they were doing the right thing. What a mess.
Saif was an incredibly wonderful character and exactly who Naila needed on her side through all this. He would go to the ends of the earth for her, and pretty much did. I also loved Naila’s little brother. He was a sweetheart.
I will say, unless you want to read the whole thing in a couple of hours like I did, you’ll probably want to stop before the bus thing happens. Because it’s pretty much a constant spiral of awful after that until the end. I literally could not bring myself to stop reading because I could not leave things where they were.
This was a great, heart-wrenching read about a real issue that affects girls around the world, but I will say the ending felt slightly abrupt. Just a little more would have let things breathe at the end after everything that had happened.