Hi! I am officially completely done with the school year, which I am very excited about, and right now, I have a review of an amazing book that I finished reading a few days ago. This wonderful book was published almost exactly a month ago, and is well, incredible. So, without further ado, here is my review of The Henna Wars, by Adiba Jaigirdar.
The Henna Wars
Author: Adiba Jaigirdar
Release Date: May 12th 2020
Genre: Young adult, contemporary, romance
Content warnings: racism, homophobia, bullying, and a character being outed
Representation: Bengali Muslim lesbian MC, Brazilian-Irish (Afro-Latinx) bisexual LI, side Bengali characters, side Korean character, Sapphic Romance
*this review is spoiler free*
When Dimple Met Rishi meets Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda in this rom com about two teen girls with rival henna businesses.
When Nishat comes out to her parents, they say she can be anyone she wants—as long as she isn’t herself. Because Muslim girls aren’t lesbians. Nishat doesn’t want to hide who she is, but she also doesn’t want to lose her relationship with her family. And her life only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life.
Flávia is beautiful and charismatic and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat choose to do henna, even though Flávia is appropriating Nishat’s culture. Amidst sabotage and school stress, their lives get more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush on Flávia, and realizes there might be more to her than she realized.
The whole premise for this is amazing, and I really loved it! Henna is a part of Nishat’s culture, so Nishat loves the idea of being able to start a henna business. Flavia is an artist and argues that art is art and can be done by anyone. The controversies of cultural appropriation are written about and discussed in detail, in a great way.
I don’t know what I was expecting with the plot, but it sure wasn’t what I ended up reading! The plot was way more complex than I expected it to be. I feel like a lot of the contemporaries that I’ve read have more predictable plots. This one did not. I never felt lost in the plot, I never felt left behind. I didn’t have to go back and reread a chapter because I wasn’t sure what was going on.
Oh, the writing. The writing in this book is amazing. You can see Nishat doing the henna on Priti’s hand, you can feel Nishat almost sinking at her parent’s reacting to her coming out. The writing is so descriptive, and smooth, you can almost imagine yourself right next to Nishat, going with her and experiencing everything that she’s experiencing.
I loved the way the characters were written, and I loved the different relationships that Nishat had, with her family, her friends…
For example, Nishat’s relationship with Chyna was very interesting. Chyna is horrible to Nishat, and has been since they were much younger. At first, Chyna seems like a pretty one-dimensional evil character, but as the story goes on, we learn more about Chyna, and her personality becomes more complex.
Another thing that I loved reading about was the relationship between Nishat and her two best friends, Jess and Chaewon. I feel like in most young adult novels, the friendships are often less complex, and are more solid. Rarely do we read about a character in the same situation as Nishat: Jess and Chaewon are her friends, but they are closer to each other than they are to her. That makes her feel left out at times. Nishat doesn’t have perfect best friends; but that’s completely realistic!
Third, Flavia. There was a little insta-love, but honestly, although I sometimes find that sort of thing kind of annoying, I didn’t mind it. I actually thought that it was written very well. Nishat doesn’t know what to think about Flavia: when she first sees her again, years after they briefly new each other in elementary school, Nishat has a huge crush on her. But her admiration of Flavia mostly dissapears when Flavia chooses to start a henna business, appropriating Nishat’s culture. Overall, I think that this romance was written incredibly. It wasn’t overly perfect, and it wasn’t way too complicated to read about.
Fourth, her parents. I thought that the way that Nishat’s parents are written was incredible to read about. They do not react all that acceptingly of Nishat when she comes out to them as lesbian. They tell her that muslim girls can’t be lesbians, and that she cannot be who she knows she really is. Nishat’s parents want the best for her, and it is hard for them to accept their daughter for who she is.
And last, but not least. Definitely not least, my favorite part of this entire book. Nishat’s relationship with her sister, Priti. Priti is encouraging, kind, helpful, funny and supportive. Priti is so kind to Nishat, and is the only one who Nishat can turn to when she is struggling. Priti is more than accepting of her older sister’s sexuality, and is the one who helps Nishat out when she’s struggling. Priti really understands the racism that Nishat faces, because she faces it too. That’s not to say, however, that Priti and Nishat’s relationship is absolutely perfect. No siblings get along one hundred percent of the time, not siblings have the same opinions on every little detail. What stands out in Priti and Nishat’s relationship is that they’re always there for each other.
“I love you, Apujan,” she whispers. “And I’m so damn proud of you. I hope you know that.”
Adiba Jaigirdar was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and has been living in Dublin, Ireland from the age of ten. She has a BA in English and History, and an MA in Postcolonial Studies. She is a contributor for Bookriot. All of her writing is aided by tea, and a healthy dose of Janelle Monáe and Hayley Kiyoko. When not writing, she can be found ranting about the ills of colonialism, playing video games, and expanding her overflowing lipstick collection. She can be found at adibajaigirdar.com or @adiba_j on Twitter and @dibs_j on Instagram.
It is important that we read books with diverse characters, it is important that there are characters that everyone can relate to. Everyone should be able to see themselves represented in books, in the media, and that is why we need books like The Henna Wars. The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar is a beautifully written young adult contemporary about a Bengali Muslim lesbian with an amazing sister relationship!
My rating: 5/5 stars
To who? Everyone! And I’m not just being lazy. I do think that everyone should read The Henna Wars, because it is a very unique novel, with amazing representation, beautiful writing, an interesting plot, and characters you will never forget.