If a YA novel is about a female Muslim protagonist who falls for a guy, the chances are that he is a non-Muslim. This is annoying to me not because it doesn’t happen, but because the opposite happens, too, and is so infrequently written about. S. K. Ali’s newest contemporary YA novel, Love from A to Z, is about that sadly neglected story line—what happens when a Muslim guy and girl fall for each other. It’s well-written and complex: the characters, who are both relatable and endearing, each have their own issues to deal with, and it is so refreshing to see a YA novel that tells a romance story with practicing Muslim characters.
This is the story of Adam and Zayneb, who meet in Doha over spring break. But it’s not really spring break for Adam because he’s not going back to school. He’s just been diagnosed with MS, which his mother died of years ago. Zayneb’s spring break is also complicated: she’s taking it one week early after being suspended for a run-in with an Islamophobic teacher at her high school. After a serendipitous initial meeting in a London airport, Zayneb and Adam meet again in Doha: Zayneb’s aunt, who she’s staying with, is an old friend of Adam’s mother.
The book has a (delightfully sage) narrator who begins and ends the book and also butts in in the middle for an interlude. But the majority of the book is told through the journal entries of Adam and Zayneb. In an (again) serendipitous turn of events, they both keep a journal called Marvels and Oddities, in which they record the marvels (wonderful things) and oddities (not-so-wonderful things) they experience. True to his character, Adam’s journals are full of marvels. If you were to ask Adam what he wants most in the world, he would say peace. Zayneb’s journals are full of oddities, and if you asked her the same question, she would say justice. Throughout the book, Zayneb’s struggle is how to harness her anger into beneficial action that will have long-lasting effects. Adam’s struggle is to go after what he wants. Their struggles are real and timely, and I found the ending really satisfying.
I highly recommend this heartwarming and powerful YA novel about falling in love, believing in yourself, and trusting in your community of friends and allies.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Find it here: Goodreads | Simon and Schuster | Amazon.com | Book Depository
Thank you to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
I reread Saints and Misfits this month for my real-life book club, and I thought it would be helpful to share the discussion questions we used.
Instead of going through the questions one by one, we used it to spark conversations by taking turns choosing the questions we found interesting. There are generic questions and more specific questions so that everyone had a chance to speak to whatever interested them about the novel.
Here’s the printable PDF:
Saints and Misfits Discussion Qs
Let me know if you use it or if it’s helpful for you! I’d love to have feedback!
I’m doing my first tag today—the Ramadan Readathon Book Tag, which was created by Amna over at YA Reading Corner. This is a bit more personal than my usual book reviews, so I hope it’s a fun way to get to know one another a little better. 🙂
Ramadan Readathon Book Tag
~*Mirrors and Windows*~
Name a book that you felt represented you or that you were able to relate to.
Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali is the first book that I read and was able to say: Yes! that’s the community I grew up in!
~*My Muslim Hero/Heroine*~
Name your favorite Muslim character and explain why.
Kamala Khan from the Ms. Marvel comic book series because she’s a badass with a good heart. What better combination?
~*Patience is a virtue*~
Name your most anticipated read by a Muslim author.
Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin is a Pride and Prejudice reboot with Muslim characters. Uhhh, yes please! It comes out June 12 in Canada.
Name your favorite Muslim author.
I don’t really have a favorite Muslim author. I read everything I can get my hands on, and will try everyone once, and most people twice. 🙂
~*The Muslim Shelf*~
Recommend one book by a Muslim author that everyone should read.
Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and illustrated by Ebony Glenn. Yes! A picture book! Because everyone can enjoy a gorgeously illustrated picture book, and this one shows the beauty and power of one of Islam’s most misunderstood symbols (the hijab.) I think it’s a fabulous tool for understanding and peace.
Let me know your answers to any of these questions or if you’ve read any of the books I’ve mentioned.
WARNING: The following discussion contains spoilers! In other words, this post reveals what happens in the book. If you have NOT read Saints and Misfits, here is my non-spoiler review.
As I mentioned in my review, I absolutely loved this book. I found the realistic representation of a Muslim community spot-on. Janna’s voice was great. Ali weaves together all of the different subplots and tucks in the ends in subtle ways that I really appreciated. When a book is that awesome, the few things that I didn’t like or that I didn’t get stand out more. View Post
I loved this book so much that I’m splitting the conversation into two parts—the non-spoiler review that follows, and a spoilery discussion of the book, which you can find here.
Saints and Misfits, by S.K. Ali, is the book that I’ve been holding my breath for since I was fourteen years old. It perfectly captures what it’s like for Muslim teens growing up in America—trying to practice Islam when they’re still sorting out what the shape of that Islam is and how it fits together with the rest of their life.
The novel opens with Janna Yusuf in the water at the beach, scanning the coast to choose the perfect moment to come out—when no one is paying attention to her and her awkward burkini. She emerges, water squelching out everywhere and the black fabric getting covered in sand, only to be berated by her dad, “Janna, why do you have to wear that thing?”
It’s the perfect moment to describe the American-Muslim experience—young people caught between all kinds of rocks and hard places. Janna’s parents are divorced, and she is on vacation with her dad and her stepmom. He wants to know why she can’t wear a one-piece like the one Linda is wearing; Janna explains to her dad, “I’m a hijabi, remember?” Janna is caught between her dad, on the less-practicing end of the Muslim spectrum, and her mom and brother, who agree on everything. View Post