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Misfit in Love Paperback – May 3 2022

4.5 out of 5 stars 29 ratings

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About the Author

S. K. Ali is the author of Saints and Misfits, a finalist for the American Library Association’s 2018 William C. Morris Award and the winner of the APALA Honor Award and Middle East Book Honor Award; and Love from A to Z, a Today show Read with Jenna Book Club selection. Both novels were named best YA books of the year by various media including Entertainment Weekly and Kirkus Reviews. She is also the author of Misfit in Love and Love from Mecca to Medina. You can find Sajidah online at SKAliBooks.com and follow her on Instagram @SKAliBooks, TikTok @SKAliBooks, and on Twitter at @SajidahWrites.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One

Chapter One


I’m in the water. Floating on my back, staring at the bluest sky there must have ever been in the history of blue skies.

My burkini, almost all four yards of it, swells up around me and serves as a flotation device. I’m buoyed, but—secret smile—it’s not only because of the burkini.

Nuah’s coming tomorrow—for the entire weekend.

And I have a plan.

Now that I’m finished with school and will be starting college in the fall, I’m ready to actually tell Nuah that… that… well, I guess, that we can be a
thing? I don’t know what else to call it when you say yes, I like you back to someone like Nuah, who’s interested in me, but also interested in following Islam.

Which means there are rules—
but the rules will still lead to us being together.

I spread my arms out in the lake and let my secret smile take over my face, remembering the words of the scholar and spiritual poet Rumi.

“Rumi said, ‘Only from the heart can you touch the sky,’?” I tell the sky, my eyes probing the blue expanse, my left hand pulling up my burkini pants, which are beginning to ride low again, their waistline weathered from overuse. “And I believe him.”

“Janna, are you talking to yourself again?”

I don’t need to lift my head to know that it’s my brother Muhammad. And that he’s on the dock, throwing our two little half brothers into the lake, one by one, each time they scramble back onto the dock in turn saying, “Again!”

He’s giddy, my big brother.

In exactly two days he’s getting married to the love of his life, Sarah. And it’s all happening on the grounds of this lakeside estate house right here that Dad bought and renovated last summer in grand fashion.

I mean, there’s even a perfect white gazebo by the water. Dad had wanted it to be his wife Linda’s “sanctuary” space—with white couches and some kind of tulle hanging off the entire structure, doing double duty as a practical mosquito net
and an ethereal fantasy thing.

But Linda is more of a chasing-after-the-kids-in-her-leggings person, so the gazebo is a neglected thing of beauty, lying in wait for its moment to shine.

That moment began a week ago when white-overalled workers descended on the gazebo to perk it up. Remove the couches, dismantle the net, give it a fresh coat of paint, fix the trellis roof.

This weekend everyone Muhammad knows, and I mean
everyone, is driving up either three hours from Eastspring, our hometown, or an hour down from Chicago to see Muhammad and Sarah’s relationship get solemnized in that gleaming white gazebo.

It’s THE wedding of the Muslim community round these parts.

Wedding preparations have been going on for weeks now, led by Dad and Muhammad, as Sarah is scrambling to finish a master’s degree and her family is throwing an official reception of their own next year.

But this event here by the lake is going to be a monstrous affair, and it’s kind of unnerving. I can’t even move around Dad’s place without bumping into strangers measuring distances or erecting beams or looking me up and down as I flop around in my (signature) ripped, faded, slouchy clothes.

Big Fat Muslim Wedding is on everyone’s lips. Like three-hundred-guests big—which is huge for being a private wedding in Dad’s backyard.

Muhammad and Sarah are even letting me invite some of my friends, plus their plus-ones.

One of them is Nuah.

Who, being friends with Muhammad, is coming up to help him out prewedding.

Floating in the lake, I hitch up my burkini pants again, do a flutter kick to keep from sinking while doing so, and smile bigger at the sky above as I think about Nuah all dressed up for the wedding.

I haven’t seen Nuah in forever because, after his freshman year ended, he stayed in California, where he’d started college for engineering last fall. But when he comes up tomorrow, it will be for the summer.

Our summer.

I close my eyes because, sappy but true—as Rumi himself knew—the blue skies have moved into my heart now.

Water splashes on my face. A truckload.

Grunting and sputtering with frustration, I flail for a moment before reaching to clear my eyes, to get ready to deal with my super-immature, forever-goofy brother.

The guy is getting married in two days, and he can’t even let me float in peace?

Heaving and righting myself to stand in the shallow water, I open my eyes.

But not to Muhammad.

To a total stranger.

An unbelievably gorgeous total stranger.

I blink twice, but he’s still there. Standing in water to his knees, his legs encased in long shorts, his torso encased in… nothing.

Smiling a sheepish smile, hands on his hips, squinting into the sun behind me, squinting at me.

“Haytham, this is my sister, Janna.” Muhammad steps up to us and slaps this otherworldly creature on its bare back, and it nods at me, brown hair flopping ever so slightly forward. “Janna, meet Haytham, Sarah’s cousin. Here to help with wedding prep.”

“Sorry for splashing you like that,” the creature says, scratching a bare, flat stomach that I will myself not to glance at. “I couldn’t help it. You had this amazing smile on your face, and I wanted to see what would happen.”

“Oh yeah, Sarah told me you had impulse-control issues.” Muhammad starts laughing, while swatting at Luke, our youngest half brother, who’s pulling on his shorts. “But Janna here is all about the impulse control. And you made her mad before you even met her!”

“Sorry again.” The creature folds his arms across a chest that has seen many dedicated workouts. “Janna.”

I don’t say anything. Wrinkles of concern crease the wide and tall and majestic forehead belonging to the interloper. “Do you forgive me? Janna?”

(I have a thing for big foreheads. Everyone has things. Mine happens to be a frontal-lobe matter. Don’t judge, and instead reflect on your own fixations.)

I nod at the forehead and pull at my burkini, clinging to my body now that most of the excess water has dripped out. I tug the fabric to stop it from sticking so ferociously to me.

Which is not a thing you should do in front of a tall, handsome stranger begging your forgiveness.

The burkini, my formerly trusted flotation friend, immediately makes a squelchy farting noise.

The noise that always makes both my half brothers, those pudglings I (used to) affectionately call laddoos after those Indian dessert balls, immediately scream,
Janna is farting!

“Janna is farting!” they both shout on cue now.

“I’m not farting!” I yell, tugging at my swimwear again in my nervousness. Another fart sounds in the summer air, weaker and not quite as dedicated to ruining my life.

As squeals of laughter greet the lesser fart, I’m in disbelief that “I’m not farting!” are the first words that came out of my mouth in front of Haytham.

I whip my head around at the squealing scoundrels, my half brothers, products of my father’s hasty remarriage, splashing nearby. “That wasn’t a fart, Luke and Logan!”

“Janna farted again!” Logan shouts.

“Atain!” Luke echoes. He advances his rotund self toward me, paddling furiously in the floatation device he’s permanently wedged into whenever he’s in the water, and pulls at my burkini pants. Lately he’s into disrobing unsuspecting humans of clothing covering their nether regions.

Uh-oh.

My old, unreliable burkini pants.

Before I have a moment to clutch at them, they fall off completely.

Haytham turns around quickly but not before letting out a laugh that he tries to cover with the back of his hand.

I am so thankful my burkini top is so long, so very, very long, that nothing showed. Thank you, Allah, for saving my butt,
literally.

I slide down into the water. As low as I can in the shallowest part of the super-long shallow-entry lake.

And then, while trying to walk away in a dignified but quick fashion on the shifting sands of the lake bed, I trip on the pants swiftly gathering themselves under my feet and tip face-forward into the water.

Underwater, I pray that Haytham didn’t turn around again when he heard the new laughs Logan and Luke let out, Luke even clapping his hands with glee.

I close my eyes and stay in place, even though it’s so shallow. I have to sit cross-legged, and still my head rises in humiliation above the water, like a wounded giraffe.

One of the ways Muhammad is all right is that he gets my utter mortification pretty thoroughly. Even though he has no qualms about doing things to bother me when we’re on our own, he understands, sometimes, the preservation of my dignity in public.

“Okay, we’re going in! Logan, Luke, now! It’s almost dinnertime!” thunders my only dependable brother.

I hear screams of “NO!” accompanied by splashes and threats and grabbings of half brothers, and then silence.

When I open my eyes, they’re gone.

All of them, even
him.

I stand and fit my feet through the legs of my pants, frowning as I struggle to find the holes at the hem.

Who is he?

Haytham?

I mean besides being Sarah’s cousin?

Besides being the guy I just got completely humiliated in front of?

Lifting my long burkini top and bunching it under my chin to hold it in place, I tug at the bottom’s waist and knot the excess fabric as best as I can. Mental note:
Get a new burkini.

I’m just going to forget this “Janna farted” incident and go get showered and changed and then head to the hotel in town to see Mom, who’s arriving today to help with wedding stuff.

I haven’t seen her in almost a month now, so I can’t wait to catch up.

It was Muhammad who guilted me into staying so long at Dad’s. I hadn’t been sure I wanted to spend three weeks here before the wedding. I had originally wanted to stay home in Eastspring to work and just come up the week of the wedding to help him out, but then Muhammad had pouted, his lips drooping, and he’d slouched his whole self.
So you don’t want to hang out with me at Dad’s before you go to college and before I become an old married man? Our last time as free siblings?

So yeah, I’d given in. And said good-bye to Mom. And a job.

I hung around here at Dad’s scrumptious home just resting and relaxing and eating good food and swimming every day and reading all the books and watching all the movies and shows I’d missed while finishing high school. And of course hanging around with Muhammad and Luke and Logan.

And it was fun. I’m glad I did it, actually.

But there’s something I like even more than the comforts at Dad’s: After the wedding, after Muhammad leaves with Sarah, everything goes back to normal. Exactly how I like it.

It’ll only be me and Mom in Eastspring once again, the way it used to be—well, the way it used to be since my parents got divorced when I was ten, and we moved apart when I was eleven.

Before the divorce, I used to think of myself and Dad as a team, as we’re kind of similar in our eye-on-the-prize way of seeing things. He applies it to the business world because he owns a food company, and I apply it to the getting-the-best-grades-possible-in-school world. Dad’s goal-oriented philosophy helped him become the number one prepackaged Indian dessert manufacturer in North America. And mine landed me a hefty scholarship to UChicago to study English.

Team Dad and Janna lasted only so long, though.

When a member of our mosque community assaulted me two years ago, Mom was the one who was there for me. She got me counseling with Dr. Lloyd, pressed charges, and wrapped me in relentless love, and so we became a new team, a championship team. Dad was just a ball of anger, blaming the mosque, wanting something bigger to be held accountable. I found it hard to connect with him then.

Like Mom, Nuah helped me through that time too. He was never far away and stood by me when some people in our community refused to believe what had happened. In addition to duas, he kept sending me memes to brighten my day. And specially selected cat videos—which I have no idea where he found, because they weren’t the viral ones.

So it’s going to be a Nuah-and-me
and a mom-and-me summer when we get back to Eastspring, insha’Allah.

And my world going back to being small and cozy like that is exactly what I need when this huge wedding is done.

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (May 3 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 336 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1534442766
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1534442764
  • Item weight ‏ : ‎ 249 g
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 13.97 x 2.54 x 20.96 cm
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.5 out of 5 stars 29 ratings

About the author

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S. K. Ali is the author of "Saints and Misfits", a finalist for the American Library Association's 2018 William C.Morris award, and the winner of the APALA Honor Award and Middle EastBook Honor Award. "Saints and Misfits", and her second novel, "Love from A to Z", were both best YA books of the year as named by Entertainment Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and the American Library Association. "Love from A to Z" was the first teen novel chosen for NBC Today Show's Read with Jenna book club. Her newest novel, "Misfit in Love", was a People Magazine best book of summer 2021. "The Proudest Blue", her picture book co-authored with Ibtihaj Muhammad, was an instant New York Times Bestseller. Along with Aisha Saeed, she's the co-editor of a critically acclaimed anthology of middle grade stories called "Once Upon an Eid".

Interested in a variety of genres and literary forms, S. K. Ali is currently working on books that reflect this love. She can be found on twitter (@sajidahwrites), on instagram (@skalibooks), on TikTok (@skalibooks), and reached through her website's contact page: www.skalibooks.com.

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