The Next Chapter

Why S.K. Ali believes in the unlimited potential of girl power

S.K. Ali's debut YA novel, Saints and Misfits follows a Muslim teen who believes everyone can be divided into one of three categories: saints, misfits or monsters.
S.K. Ali is the author of the YA novel Saints and Misfits. (Andrea Stenson/Simon & Schuster)

S.K. Ali is an exciting new voice on the YA scene. The Toronto-based author's debut novel, Saints and Misfits, is the first title to be published by Simon & Schuster's new imprint, Salaam Reads, which is focused on telling Muslim stories. The book follows Janna Yusuf, a 15-year-old Muslim American teen struggling with balancing her family, friends, school and her crush on a boy who isn't Muslim.

This interview originally aired on Sept, 4, 2017.

Exploring the dynamics of a Muslim family

"Janna's parents are divorced and her parents choose to practice Islam in different ways. Her father is more secular and her mother interprets Islam more traditionally. There is this conflict happening, where the father interprets Janna's actions, and her wanting to cover, as a statement against him. In reality, it is Janna feeling comfort with her mom's identity. She's figuring out who she is.

"I situated her in this complex family dynamic because there is so much nuance to Muslim lives that we don't see. By introducing this into this character's world, I wanted readers to glimpse into what that could look like."

The power of girl power and YA

"I love reading YA. I feel young adult writers explore more terrain. There's more of an ease to discuss identities not often featured. There's more diversity. There's a pushing of the limits that are traditionally seen in literature.

"I love girl power stories. I knew that when I wrote something that it would play be big theme in it. It's about a girl waking up to her own power and her own voice and taking a stand. It was so natural for me to gravitate toward writing that. When you're from a marginalized community you're often defined already. Before you can answer the question, 'Who am I?', you are told who you are. It's very challenging because you're not even sure of who you are. So you're working against forces to define yourself.  I wanted to explore that in this book." 

S.K. Ali's comments have been edited and condensed.