ARC Review: Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali

Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali

Publisher: Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster

Publication Date: June 13th, 2017

Genre: YA Contemp/Diverse

Pages: 352 pages

Format: eGalley

Rating: ★★★★★ (5 Stars)

*Trigger warning: attempted rape

*HUGE thanks to Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster, Netgalley & S.K. Ali for the eGalley copy of 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 tight knit Muslim community think of her then?

Before I get into my review of this wonderful gemstone of a book, I’d like to include two #Ownvoices reviews I found on Goodreads. Both Leenahreads (Muslim & Arab) & Hadeer (Muslim & Egyptian) give a perspective that is much needed in the community & appreciated by this bookworm. Also, today is the release day for Saints and Misfits & on behalf of LairOfBooks, I’d like to wish S.K. Ali a very happy book birthday!!!

In Saints and Misfits we follow our main protagonist Janna Yusuf who is a Arab Indian-American hijabi teen navigating life within her Muslim community & High School. Janna finds herself having a major crush on Jeremy, a Irish student in her school that is non-Muslim. With these feelings come a slew of questions we get to see Janna find answers to along the way. We are introduced to Janna’s family & friends as well as the community she is very involved with. The daughter of divorced/co-parenting parents, living with her mom & slightly older brother…Janna & her family are already viewed as different within their own community. Having a crush on a non-Muslim boy complicates things for her & to add to her plate, she’s harboring a hurtful secret. Janna doesn’t know whether she will be believed if she speaks up since the secret is about a respected individual in the community. This is a story about self reflection, family, community, identity, friendship, strength, faith & courage to face your fears.

Ever come across a fictional character who has qualities you yourself wish you possessed? such is the case with my admiration of Janna Yusuf. She is by no means perfect but strong willed and firm in her beliefs. Like any teenager she deals with High School crushes and social pressures both on & offline. Seeing her navigate through certain situations gives you a feeling that you’re reading one confident character. For the most part Janna is confident which was refreshing, I loved seeing her take pride in wearing Hijab. Janna’s sarcasm proved to be one of my fave qualities since witty characters always win me over. Perhaps my most favorite trait of Jannas is her interactions with those around her & how empathetic she is even when she doesn’t want to be lol. I also loved the relationship between Janna and her slightly older brother Muhammad. Throughout the book Janna’s older brother is courting another Muslim girl his age & he has asked Janna to supervise their dates. Janna does so even though she’s not a fan of his romantic interest & in doing so we get to see them spend more time around one another. It was nice seeing Muhammad be so attentive to Janna that he was able to pick up on there being something wrong. His genuine concern for his little sister made me wish he was my big brother *sobs*

Janna also has a non-Muslim bestie  who I’m just going to go ahead and say it….Tats = Ride or Die Bestie for life! Tats is such an amazing friend to Janna & respectful of her beliefs even when social pressure got in the mix. Of course they had moments where Tats didn’t understand fully but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Ultimately Tats respected Janna & had her back, love seeing positive f/f relationships. Lastly, one of my fave characters was Mr. Ram who lived in Janna’s complex and who Janna would take to/from a community center for the elderly. Mr. Ram has a passion for poetry & for encouraging Janna to pursue what makes her happy whether it’s sketching or photography. He imparted so much wisdom to Janna & just loved life so much his good spirits were contagious right through the page. There were many other characters in this book but I fear that going into them all would take away from the fun it was getting to know them. Overall, an amazing cast of characters!

I have so much love for this book I don’t even know where to start honestly! as a diverse blogger, I know the importance of seeing these books on our shelves. Most recently I read a Latinx YA book that left me smiling from ear to ear because I saw myself on the pages. In reading reviews such as the ones I linked in the intro to my review, I get a sense that this will be the case for many Muslim, Hijab, Arab, Indian-American readers. I can honestly say this book gave me so much more than a few hours of enjoyment, the lessons I took away are of much higher value. S.K. Ali organically wove bits & pieces of culture, religion, and faith throughout Saints and Misfits making for a rich reading experience. Our main protagonist is holding onto a hurtful secret & Ali gives us a realistic view of the situation. What it really would be like to expose a religious leader & the ugly truth of it all. A strong message is delivered ,many will stand against you but also, many will stand WITH you. The strong theme of community at the core plays an integral role in Janna’s life & I believe Ali captured that well with Saints and Misfits. I 100% reccomend this book to any & all, I just can’t wait to read more from S.K. Ali! 🙂

Will you be picking up Saints and Misfits today? If you’ve already read & reviewed, please drop a link & I’ll most def swing by your corner of the interwebz 😉

love, and you by Gretchen Gomez

love, and you by Gretchen Gomez

Publication Date: April 4th 2017

Genre: Poetry, Diverse, Own Voices

Pages: 142 pages

Rating: ★★★★★

one day i met a guy
who stole my heart,
we created a world
for ourselves.
and another day
he broke my heart
and shattered
my soul.

i took the tattered
pieces of this
broken soul and
became anew.

– here lies the hurting, the healing, and the learning

This beautiful soul of a poetess also known as my twin in the book blogging community, has released a book of poetry. I am now on my 3rd re-read & continue to find meaning and comfort within her words. For all those who have experienced that one toxic relationship, you know? the one you simply cannot let go…this one is for you. Love, and you will haunt you with each turn of a page & ultimately will leave you with hope for healing.

i kissed him

and tasted hope there

i kissed him

and tasted love there

i kissed him

and tasted years there

i kissed him

and tasted sadness there

i kissed him

and tasted nothing there

i kissed him

and tasted myself there

In love, and you Gretchen takes you on her journey to healing and self-love but first there is the cold & brutal heart break. We all have our breaking points, but when do you call it quits on someone you love mind, body, and soul? when broken promises are all you have… when do you start putting you first? reading love, and you transported me to a time when I couldn’t see forward, I was stuck in my hurt and not sure anyone would understand why I chose to stay. I wish this book had existed back then, it would’ve served me with empowerment & strength when I felt my weakest.

I found myself
in an island
of thoughts
surrounded by
waves of positivity.

this time
the moon
shined bright
on my skin
and i
finally
danced.

-alone in the sand of self acceptance

Gretchen Gomez is a writer and blogger from Bronx, New York. First generation Puerto Rican. She’s been writing poetry since the age of 11 and although silenced for many years, she cut the ties with silence. “love, and you” is her first published poetry collection and she is working on other collections at the moment. Gretchen makes art out of all her past experiences.

If you’d like to support Gretchen, please purchase a copy of love, and you at one of the following:

Amazon (also available worldwide)

Barnes & Noble

Book Depository

CreateSpace

Follow Gretchen for exclusive poetry @Chicnerdreads

Have any of my bookish peeps read love, and you? or are planning to? I may just go for a round 4 re-read 😉

 

Review: American Street by Ibi Zoboi

30256109.jpgAmerican Street by Ibi Zoboi

Published by: Balzer + Bray/ Harper Collins 

Publication Date: February 14th 2017

Genre: YA Contemporary/Diverse/Own Voices

Pages: 336 pages

Format: eGalley

Rating: ★★★★ (4 STARS)

*Click on cover for Goodreads

Thank you Balzer + Bray, Harper Collins, and Ibi Zoboi for the eGalley of American Street in exchange for an honest review.

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On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life.

But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.

Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?

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American Street tells the story of Fabiola Toussaint, a young teen who has returned to the United States with her mother in search of a better life or as they’ve come to call it, Une Belle Vie (a good life). Fabiola was born in the states however, her mother took her back to Haiti when she was still a baby. Fabiola was raised in Haiti where she and her mother are all they have. The books opening scene takes place in the airport, Fabiola and her mother had just landed and were to be picked up by their family in Detroit Michigan. Immigration however, detains Fabiola’s mother on grounds of suspicion to stay in the country longer than her Visa allows. In years past, Fabiola’s mother had stayed in the country with an expired Visa and she was thought to be returning with the intent to stay. Fabiola is forced to go on with her American family-her 3 cousins and aunt. She was in her last year of High School and is to finish in the states as planned by her mother and aunt. Fabiola’s mother is taken to a detention center in New Jersey where her fate is unknown and there is no way of communicating. Getting updates on her status is made extremely difficult & Fabiola’s aunt Matant Joe wants her to focus on school while she attempts to help her sister, Fabiola’s mother. We follow Fabiola’s journey in Detroit, she speaks English very well since her aunt paid for her to receive the equivalent of an American education while in Haiti. However, Detroit looks nothing like Haiti-not the land, people, food, or customs. Fabiola’s dream of a better life never had a chance to manifest before it was taken away. While in Detroit she tries her best to fit in with the family she has now been thrust into and attend school. All the while thinking of ways to get any bit of information on her mothers status & how she can get her out of the detention center. Fabiola’s family in Detroit love and accept her however, they have fallen to the gritty life of Detroit’s streets and it proves almost impossible for Fabiola to stay out of their dealings. Matant Joe has had to survive and care for her 3 girls as best she could all the while financially supporting her sister and Fabiola in Haiti. When the truth unravels, Fabiola finds herself at a crossroads. How far will she go to help her mother?

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I’ve read a ton of Fantasy and therefore, have come across many heroines and strong leaders. However, I have never come across a stronger protagonist in contemporary Fiction let alone Young Adult. Fabiola is loyal and strong in her ideals, spiritual beliefs, and love for her family. She takes the lemons she’s been given and proceeds to turn them into lemonade. We never get the sense that she is giving up on her mother or her current situation. She is observant and strategic, with one goal in mind. I admire Fabiola’s determination to maintain her identity; from the language she speaks, to the spirits that guide her, and the flavor with which she cooks food for her cousins and aunt. We also get introduced to & follow Fabiola’s three cousins Primadonna, Chantal, and Princess AKA The Three Bees. They are known for intimidating those around them and NEVER EVER allowing either one of them be disrespected. They value family over everything and in order to survive the ruthlessness of Detroits streets, have built a reputation for being untouchable. Primadonna is known as the beauty for her fashion sense, we see her journey through an abusive relationship. Chantal is known as the brains, she has sacrificed the opportunity to go to a prestigious University in exchange for staying close to home to care for her mom and sisters. Princess is known as The Brawn and goes by just “Pri”, she is the muscle and we see her deal with her sexuality. Matant Joe, Fabiola’s aunt isn’t in too many of the scenes for health reasons but nonetheless we feel her strong presence over her household. She’s been through a lot since she arrived in the states herself and it has all taken a toll. All of the characters in this book are strong in one way or another. They all are chasing a dream whether it’s theirs or their parents. In the end I was left wanting more for all of the girls who lived in the house on the corner of America and Joy Street…

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The writing in American Street is a mix between Fabiola’s native culture and the raw grittiness of Detroits mean streets. Fabiola’s religion is that of Voodoo & we get a different take on it from Fabiola than what is portrayed in main stream media. Fabiola is very vocal about the fact that her religion is not all that is seen on tv. She speaks of the different spirit guides and what they are known for. One in particular is Papa Legba the watcher of all crossroads, this is the spirit guide we see throughout the book and Fabiola believes is there to show her the correct path. I LOVED the parts we got to see and learn about Fabiola’s religion, i’ve always been very open minded and I was able to recognize many of the names for her spirit guides who go by other names in other religions. This book is also a very fast paced read and I found myself flipping the pages almost too quickly. In between chapters we do get a couple of pages where we are given a bit of story from the perspective of one of the supporting characters. Giving us backstory on events that have shaped them into who they are now and the actions they have taken to survive in a concrete jungle. I do wish we had seen a bit of Fabiola’s mothers story, its not often we see such close bonds between mother & daughter like Fabiola and her mom. I can’t speak too much on the ending for fear of spoilers but I will say that by the end of this story, Fabiola isn’t the same girl her mother last saw in the airport. We do get some character development in a very realistic sense. This is a story of new beginnings after all your dreams have been shattered. It’s not an easy one but life for immigrants/emigrants rarely is…

I recommend American Street for readers who are looking for cultural and socio-economic diversity. Readers who want a realistic portrayal of what its like for immigrants & emigrants leaving the familiar for the foreign. Lastly, I recommend this book to those with an open mind and an open heart

Author Spotlight & Giveaway: Zoraida Córdova

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About the Author:

Zoraida Córdova was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York. She is the author of the Vicious Deep trilogy, the On the Verge series, and the Brooklyn Brujas series. She loves black coffee, snark, and still believes in magic. Send her a tweet @Zlikeinzorro or visit her at zoraidacordova.com.

 

I’d like to thank Sourcebooks Fire for offering my blog & I the opportunity to feature Zoraida Córdova, author of Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas #1). After reading (My review can be found here) & falling in love with the characters & world in Labyrinth lost, I just knew that this was something i’d love to do.  Not only because I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but also because it is a perfect example of of a #ownvoices book. Zoraida Córdova has now become an auto-buy author for me & I look forward to continuing with the Brooklyn Brujas series. To best describe Labyrinth Lost I would say that Daniel José Older (author of Shadowshaper) hit the nail on the head….“A brilliant brown-girl-in-Brooklyn update on Alice in Wonderland and Dante’s Inferno. Very creepy, very magical, very necessary.” I truly enjoyed being able to recognize many of the Mexican, Ecuadorian, Caribbean, and African influences that made up the magical experience that is Labyrinth Lost. The central theme in this book was family (ancestral-living & dead) & self identity. We also get LGBTQIA diversity in Labyrinth Lost, our characters didn’t see gender which is rare. We usually get quite the opposite in the Latino community, the way Zoraida Córdova handled her characters & themes has made Labyrinth Lost an instant fave for the year (probably of all time lol). Last but not least, Kudos to the author & publishing house for the awesome giveaway (runs Sept 6th-19th) at the end of this post!

 

Summary:

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

Goodreads Link:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27969081-labyrinth-lost?from_search=true
Buy Links:
http://books.sourcebooks.com/labyrinth-lost/
Book Trailer Link:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_DBTALS6bI
Labyrinth Lost Coloring Page:
http://www.sourcebooks.com/images/LabyrinthLost-ColoringPage.pdf

 

 

The following is an excerpt from labyrinth Lost provided by Sourcebooks Fire:

 

1

Follow our voices, sister.

Tell us the secret of your death.

—-Resurrection Canto, 
Book of Cantos

The second time I saw my dead aunt Rosaria, she was dancing.

Earlier that day, my mom had warned me, pressing a long, red fingernail on the tip of my nose, “Alejandra, don’t go downstairs when the Circle arrives.”

But I was seven and asked too many questions. Every Sunday, cars piled up in our driveway, down the street, and around the corner of our old, narrow house in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Mom’s Circle usually brought cellophane–wrapped dishes and jars of dirt and tubs of brackish water that made the Hudson River look clean. This time, they carried something more.

When my sisters started snoring, I threw off my covers and crept down the stairs. The floorboards were uneven and creaky, but I was good at not being seen. Fuzzy, yellow streetlight shone through our attic window and followed me down every flight until I reached the basement.

A soft hum made its way through the thin walls. I remember thinking I should listen to my mom’s warning and go back upstairs. But our house had been restless all week, and Lula, Rose, and I were shoved into the attic, out of the way while the grown–ups prepared the funeral. I wanted out. I wanted to see.

The night was moonless and cold one week after the Witch’s New Year, when Aunt Rosaria died of a sickness that made her skin yellow like hundred–year–old paper and her nails turn black as coal. We tried to make her beautiful again. My sisters and I spent all day weaving good luck charms from peonies, corn husks, and string—-one loop over, under, two loops over, under. Not even the morticians, the Magos de Muerte, could fix her once–lovely face.

Aunt Rosaria was dead. I was there when we mourned her. I was there when we buried her. Then, I watched my father and two others shoulder a dirty cloth bundle into the house, and I knew I couldn’t stay in bed, no matter what my mother said.

So I opened the basement door.

Red light bathed the steep stairs. I leaned my head toward the light, toward the beating sound of drums and sharp plucks of fat, nylon guitar strings.

A soft mew followed by whiskers against my arm made my heart jump to the back of my rib cage. I bit my tongue to stop the scream. It was just my cat, Miluna. She stared at me with her white, glowing eyes and hissed a warning, as if telling me to turn back. But Aunt Rosaria was my godmother, my family, my friend. And I wanted to see her again.

“Sh!” I brushed the cat’s head back.

Miluna nudged my leg, then ran away as the singing started.

I took my first step down, into the warm, red light. Raspy voices called out to our gods, the Deos, asking for blessings beyond the veil of our worlds. Their melody pulled me step by step until I was crouched at the bottom of the landing.

They were dancing.

Brujas and brujos were dressed in mourning white, their faces painted in the aspects of the dead, white clay and black coal to trace the bones. They danced in two circles—-the outer ring going clockwise, the inner counterclockwise—hands clasped tight, voices vibrating to the pulsing drums.

And in the middle was Aunt Rosaria.

Her body jerked upward. Her black hair pooled in the air like she was suspended in water. There was still dirt on her skin. The white skirt we buried her in billowed around her slender legs. Black smoke slithered out of her open mouth. It weaved in and out of the circle—-one loop over, under, two loops over, under. It tugged Aunt Rosaria higher and higher, matching the rhythm of the canto.

Then, the black smoke perked up and changed its target. It could smell me. I tried to backpedal, but the tiles were slick, and I slid toward the circle. My head smacked the tiles. Pain splintered my skull, and a broken scream lodged in my throat.

The music stopped. Heavy, tired breaths filled the silence of the pulsing red dark. The enchantment was broken. Aunt Rosaria’s reanimated corpse turned to me. Her body purged black smoke, lowering her back to the ground. Her ankles cracked where the bone was brittle, but still she took a step. Her dead eyes gaped at me. Her wrinkled mouth growled my name: Alejandra.

She took another step. Her ankle turned and broke at the joint, sending her flying forward. She landed on top of me. The rot of her skin filled my nose, and grave dirt fell into my eyes.

Tongues clucked against crooked teeth. The voices of the circle hissed, “What’s the girl doing out of bed?”

There was the scent of extinguished candles and melting wax. Decay and perfume oil smothered me until they pulled the body away.

My mother jerked me up by the ear, pulling me up two flights of stairs until I was back in my bed, the scream stuck in my throat like a stone.

“Never,” she said. “You hear me, Alejandra? Never break a Circle.”

I lay still. So still that after a while, she brushed my hair, thinking I had fallen asleep.

I wasn’t. How could I ever sleep again? Blood and rot and smoke and whispers filled my head.

“One day you’ll learn,” she whispered.

Then she went back down the street–lit stairs, down into the warm red light and to Aunt Rosaria’s body. My mother clapped her hands, drums beat, strings plucked, and she said, “Again.”

 

Labyrinth Lost
By Zoraida Córdova
September 6, 2016; Hardcover, ISBN 9781492620945

Praise for Labyrinth Lost

“This work is a magical journey from start to finish… A compelling must-have for teens”
–School Library Journal, STARRED review

“Córdova’s (the Vicious Deep series) magic-infused, delightfully dark story introduces readers to an engrossing, Latin American–inspired fantasy setting and an irresistible heroine”
–Publishers Weekly

“A brilliant brown-girl-in-Brooklyn update on Alice in Wonderland and Dante’s Inferno. Very creepy, very magical, very necessary.”
—Daniel José Older, New York Times bestselling author of Shadowshaper

“Labyrinth Lost is more like reading Paradise Found. Zoraida Córdova brings us a new generation of witches, enchanting and complex. And every page is filled with magic.”
—Danielle Page, New York Times bestselling author of Dorothy Must Die

Córdova’s world will leave you breathless, and her magic will ignite an envy so green you’ll wish you were born a bruja. Delightfully dark and enchanting. An un-putdownable book.”
-Dhonielle Clayton, author of The Belles and Shiny Broken Pieces

“Córdova’s rich exploration of Latin American culture, her healthy portrayal of bisexuality and her unique voice allow this novel to stand out among its many peers.”
–RT Book Reviews

“Cordova draws inspiration from Ecuadorian, Spanish, African, Mexican, and Caribbean folklore and mythology to craft a page-turning tale about a young bruja unsure of her place in the world.”
–Bustle.com
“Córdova pulls elements from Greek mythology and Spanish and Latin American legends to craft a memorable world in Los Lagos, a supernatural realm that is as fascinating as it is threatening. The history and customs of Alex’s family’s type of witchery are also carefully constructed, giving readers a complete world to sink into with satisfaction and wonder.”
-Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“This succeeds with its lush use of Latin American mythologies, an unexpected love story, and, above all, in Alex’s complicated relationship with her family. Alex is a necessary heroine, and this dark fantasy nicely”
-Booklist

Rafflecopter Giveaway Link for 2 Copies of Labyrinth Lost with Signed Labyrinth Lost Bookmarks

 

Runs September 6th-September 19th (US & Canada only)

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/54ca7af7402/ 

Social Media Links:
Author Website: http://www.zoraidacordova.com/
Labyrinth Lost Website: http://books.sourcebooks.com/labyrinth-lost/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CordovaBooks
Twitter: @zlikeinzorro
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wanderwheel/
Author Tumblr: http://wanderlands.tumblr.com/
Labyrinth Lost Tumblr: http://labyrinthlostbooks.tumblr.com/
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/ZoraidaLandLabyrinth Lost