Part of the #RamadanReadathon initiative is to spotlight new and upcoming releases from both debut and established authors. I’m so excited to introduce S. K. Ali as today’s guest author, and celebrate the release of her debut novel Saints and Misfits!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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. You can follow her on Twitter @SajidahWrites.
ABOUT SAINTS AND MISFITS
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?
Salaam, Sajidah. Thank you so much for joining us, and congrats on the publication of Saints and Misfits (today!) How does it feel to finally reach this important milestone? Did you ever doubt yourself through the process of getting this book written and published?
SA: Thanks for the congrats!
Oh yes, re: doubt! I think self-doubt is second nature to writers. However, although doubts nagged at me, I knew I had to finish my book and try to get it published. If I abandoned it, I felt like I was showing my kids that that’s what you do with your dreams. I also wanted to prove to my 12 year-old-self (who wished to become an author) that I actually tried it.
Now that the book is coming out, of course I feel grateful that I plodded on.
Earlier this year, you created #MuslimShelfSpace, which largely inspired us to host this readathon. Can you tell us a little bit about why it was important, as well as your reaction to the response it received?
SA: #MuslimShelfSpace was important because it was launched at a most negative point in time (in this part of the world) – when the U.S. election results and subsequent policies against marginalized communities were weighing us all down. The intensity with which Muslims were vilified over the course of a span of a few years showed how easy it is to dehumanize a whole group of people through misinformation.
To counter the “alternative facts” being dredged up all the time about Muslims, we needed to share the truth of who we really are. And stories do that the best.
When those participating in #MuslimShelfSpace shared pictures of shelves of Muslim authored works and asked people to consider the space they make for authentic narratives, it was eye-opening. People readily admitted they didn’t have much Muslim shelf space. But they were ready to make the space.
I loved that honesty. Because then there’s a potential to grow and widen understandings.
Why did you choose to target Janna’s story at a young adult readership? Does her character reflect you as a teenager?
SA: I love YA, period. Maybe it’s because I enjoy reading it that it comes easily for me to write it. For this story, Janna’s, it definitely had to be YA. Our teen years are when we’re figuring out our identities, what kind of people we want/choose to be and that’s what Janna is going through, while experiencing trauma.
The parts of Janna that reflect me are her clinging to books to help her understand the world. And, yes, like her, I drew and re-wrote the Seerah and stories from Islamic history after learning about them. They were so epic and, although I was an avid reader from a young age, I found nothing I’d read paralleled them. So I’d draw scenes and write them out in my own words. (I still have a dream that I get to write a Seerah graphic novel someday.)
A little birdie tells me there are halal gummy bears in the book. Which colours are your favourite? I always save the red ones (the best ones) till last!
SA: Yes, halal gummy bears!!! My favourite is the red one too, of course! Though, I’m holding out hope that they start making new, interesting flavours, like blue raspberry. YUM.
You refer to Saints and Misfits as ‘a Muslim girl power story.’ What are your favourite girl power stories? (it can be a book, film or even real-life)
SA: One of my favourite girl power books is The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. For movies, I absolutely adore Mulan.
The above are two fictional narratives, but the foundation to my understanding of what girl-power looks like is rooted in Islamic history. From a young age, I learned about strong, active Muslim women who saw no barrier to realizing their potential. We have to remember that Muslim girl power began a long time ago.
Finally, what can we expect to see from you in the future? Can you share something about your current project?
SA: I have a Picture Book TBA. I’m also currently working on another YA contemporary, a Muslim love story set during a grad trip to Istanbul. I’m having a lot of fun with it and hope to share it with the world!
Thank you so much for answering these questions. We’re looking forward to reading Saints and Misfits!
SA: Thank YOU – for interviewing me and, more importantly, for this awesome initiative, #RamadanReadathon!
Saints and Misfits releases today – June 13th 2017 – from Salaam Reads, which is an imprint of Simon and Schuster.