Saints and Misfits

There were so many things I liked about this book, but the most important aspect for me was how Ali was sharing her culture and religion with me. I am a huge proponent of learning more about people, who hold different beliefs from ourselves so that we can build bridges. I’ve never read anything that immersed me in Muslim culture like this story. I think that it’s worth noting that everyday life for a Muslim teen is incredibly similar to that of a similarly devout Christian teen.  Ali wrote many aspects of the Muslim religion seamlessly into the story and taught me some things without getting preachy. 

“There are diverse ways of reading texts, depending on who you are. We all access books differently.”

This quote stopped me dead in my tracks, as I get very frustrated with the social media wars. I accept that the collective “we” bring different experiences to the table, and it was such a relevant point Ali raised. The context was fascinating too.

Saint. Misfit. Monster. These are titles bandied around within this story of self-discovery. Janna often identifies as a “misfit” – she is a book nerd, avid photographer, academic over-achiever, who likes boys with high foreheads, and one high forehead, in particular, belongs to a non-Muslim boy. While Janna is struggling with this “crush,” she is also grappling with exposing a so-called “saint” for the monster he is. A horrible, terrible, awful thing happened to Janna, and she is expected to carry this burden by herself, because the perpetrator dons his “saint” mask for the community, whereas, Janna has gotten herself into a few compromising situations. Right there, Ali illustrated the way many victims are made to feel. The burden of proof is on the victim, and any of their indiscretions are used against them. So instead, Janna lives in fear of him and withers away inside. These parts were written quite effectively because I felt and shared Janna’s pain. I wanted to reach into the page and harm the “monster.”

 As far as main characters go, Janna was very likable.  She was bright, driven, artistic and funny. Ali effortlessly touches on huge issues such as assault, bullying, taboo dating, divorce, and victimization with honesty and somehow makes what could be a heavy read- light and thought provoking.