Thursday, December 14

Let's Talk 2017 Debuts: Two Authors, Two Debuts

Trigger warning : police violence, racism, race hate crime

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil's name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Angie Thomas is an African American author who was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent.
She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She can also still rap if needed.
She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Meyers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. Her first published novel, The Hate U Give, debuted at number one on the New York Times best-seller list for young adult hardcover books and continued to top the list for weeks after. Film rights have been optioned by Fox 2000 with George Tillman directing and Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg playing the lead. 

Trigger warning : sexual assault, microagressions, posting of MC's photos on the internet without permission

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?

S.K. Ali is a teacher based in Toronto whose writing on Muslim culture and life has appeared in the Toronto Star. Her family of Muslim scholars is consistently listed in the The 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World, and her insight into Muslim culture is both personal and far-reaching.
A mother of a teenage daughter herself, S.K. Ali’s debut YA novel is a beautiful and nuanced story about a young woman exploring her identity through friendship, family, and faith.
She lives in Toronto with her family, which includes a very vocal cat named Yeti. She is currently working on her second YA novel featuring an ensemble cast of diverse souls, as well as LOVE.

The Hate U Give and Saints and Misfits were no doubt two of the YA debuts I was the most excited for this year. So naturally, I made it a priority to get to them as soon as I humanly could once they were out for the whole world to devour. I read them, I loved them...and like we ghastly humans are wont to do, I couldn't bring myself to actually review them. You know when books are so brilliantly perfect that you are at a loss for words to actually describe them? Yeah, that. 

I still can't put my thoughts into a coherent review, but I honestly wouldn't be able to forgive myself if I don't talk about these absolute masterpieces on the blog- the fact that they deserve all the attention is one thing, but what kept nagging at my heart was, if I don't talk about such gems here, WHAT'S EVEN THE POINT OF ME BLOGGING ABOUT BOOKS? A true dilemma, it was, until I decided to do this. I'll now list a few of the many reasons why you're seriously missing out on two freaking great books (and authors) if you decide to give these a pass. 

Reason 1: #OwnVoices

THUG, inspired by the #BlackLivesMatter movement, tackles many important topics like racism, police violence, revolution, the corrupt justice system, the effect of social media on it all and much more. I learnt so much about BLM, and the fact that it was all narrated through an #ownvoices perspective made it all the more hard-hitting and eye-opening.  

Saints and Misfits serves as a representation of the Muslim community, and being Muslim myself, it was extremely fulfilling to read a YA book where I could find a reflection of myself and my community. The novel goes on to portray Muslims in a much-needed light, that of us being humans just like anyone outside our community; that there are flawed people in our community, but there are also those that are absolute gems. This being #ownvoices and the way it explores faith makes it an extremely important, enlightening book.

Reason 2: Issues Tackled

Like I mentioned before, The Hate U Give tackles very important issues that are extremely relevant to this day. Starr sees a friend of her's die right in front of her, not once, but twice,  the latter instance being due to the police assuming her friend Khalil to be a drug dealer. Horribly unfair though it is, it's something that happens way too many times these days, and Angie Thomas takes an unflinching look at it all through the course of this story.

Saints and Misfits addresses sexual assault within the Muslim community among other things and can I just say WOW? It's not often that Muslims come forward with allegations of sexual assault, especially when the assaulter is a person generally regarded with respect in the community. IN this novel though, S. K. Ali tackles this subject with sensitivity and grace, examining both sexual assault and its consequences in a brilliantly nuanced manner, effortlessly breaking stereotypes along the way.

Reason 3: Flawless Storytelling

Storytelling is definitely Angie Thomas's forte. THUG is a wonderfully spun story with the most memorable characters and relationships. Starr is no doubt one of the best female leads we've had the luck to come across in YA for quite sometime, and her sass, spunk and pure badassery make for a character that will stay with you for a long, long time. There are many other characters woven into the story and each of them is so well-fletched out that you'd grow attached to them in no time. Each character feels like someone taken right from the real world and plonked in the middle of this story and, just...incredible, I tell you! The many relationships in the book should also be mentioned, with Starr's relationship with her parents taking the cake. Seriously, this book! Utter perfection. For once, I'd say the hype is so well-deserved.

Saints and Misfits was in no means flawless, but it was still a very engaging, important read and I loved how the characters were portrayed. While there was no doubt a handful of annoying ones, I loved the positive way in which the men were treated. For once we get men who are willing to treat women as no less than equals, who don't suffocation try to bind women by social constructs, and it was all so refreshing because here's the thing: we have men who are extreme douchebags...but we also have ones that are comfortable with being feminists! I also loved how the Islamic community was shown, and the relationships!!! Be it familial, friendships or whatever, they were all portrayed so beautifully- especially that of Janna and her brother. S. K. Ali is definitely an author to watch out for, and I cannot wait for her next already.

Bonus Reason: The Book Covers! 

I mean, can you just look at them? PoC on the covers, lovely clean font, pleasing colours and terrific look altogether- could you possibly ask for more? 

So...what are you waiting for? If you haven't picked either of these already, just scoot! If you have, tell me just how much you loved them! Best debuts of 2017- yay or yay? 


  1. I absolutely loved THUG and it’s one of my favourites this year but I haven’t heard about Saint & Misfits. Adding it now to my wishlist

    1. Ooh I'm glad I managed to bring S&M on your radar! I'd absolutely LOVE to see what you think of it when you get around to it!

  2. First time visiting your blog Ruzaika! I absolutely LOVED The HATE you Give and Saints and Misfits is in my TBR and I feel I have to bump it up the list after your review :) For some reason I had missed that sexual assault was one of the topics!

    1. Thank you for stopping by! <33
      I'M SO EXCITED OMG. I hope you love S&M just as much as I did, if not more! xx

  3. The Hate U Give has been on my TBR since I first saw the advance reviews of it but I don't know how I missed Saints and Misfits! OwnVoices narratives are so important and I haven't really read that much about the Muslim community so I definitely need to get on that! Thanks for reminding me of these, Ruz!

    Laura @BlueEyeBooks

    1. OH BUT YOU REALLY, REALLY NEED TO PICK THESE UP SOON! They are both truly amazing and #ownvoices books sure are so, so important. I'd love to see what you think of these two when you get around to them, Laura! <33

  4. I loved Saints and Misfits. Ali filled it with such incredible characters. Gosh! I adored them all. Great review.

    1. YES!!! And the characters were all so brilliantly etched out- they were some of the best ever! I'm so glad you loved it too, Sam!


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