Buy The Henna Wars
Regular price $21.67
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Format: Hardcover / eBook
Reviewer: Melissa on June 2, 2020
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Have you ever read a book that is cute, heartwarming, and heartbreaking all at the same time? The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar has the swoony and heartwarming moments of a Desi romance that you loved, like When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon with a queer romance that’s the f/f equivalent to Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Add in a dash of heartbreak, and you’ll have an understanding of why Nishat’s story is an emotional, but realistic, read at times.
In many 2SLGBTQIA+ YA novels where the characters aren’t already out, such as Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, the coming out moment is one that the main character isn’t ready for and the tension about whether they’re will tell anyone, who they will tell, whether they’ll be publicly outed first, and what the effect of coming out with be drives the narrative.
In The Henna Wars, Nishat has already come out to her younger sister, Priti. However, the novel opens with a fast approaching Bangladeshi community wedding, and when Nishat realizes that her parents are imagining the joy they’ll experience when their daughters get married in the traditional way of their community, she decides to come out to her mother, Ammu. This moment and the resulting tension it causes within their family unit drives the narrative and makes Nishat hold off on coming out to her school friends. It also leads to a very emotional moment between Nishat and her mother, which caused me to cry openly while reading because Ammy couldn’t accept that Nishat’s lesbianism wasn’t a choice and believed it to be a cause of familial shame.
Beyond the growing familial tension caused by Nishat being a lesbian, The Henna Wars centres around the romantic tension between Nishat and Flávia as well as the racism and, eventually, the homophobia Nishat experiences at their all-girls Catholic school in Dublin, Ireland. Flávia is at Sunny Apu’s wedding, and both she and Nishat recognize each other even thought they haven’t seen one another since primary school. Nishat is attracted to Flávia, a beautiful black, biracial Brazillian-Irish, bisexual teen, but she assumes that she’ll never see Flávia again. This changes, however, when Flávia starts attending Nishat’s high school during their transition year.
Unfortunately, Flávia is also Chyna’s cousin, a white girl who is the bane to Nishat’s existence since Chyna spread racist rumours about her when they started secondary school. Racism doesn’t end there however. Nishat’s friendship with Jess and Chaewon becomes tense when Jess rejects Nishat’s belief that Chyna’s comments were, indeed, racist and Chaewon doesn’t corroborate Nishat’s understanding of the situation. Finally, when they’re required to create and run businesses for their transition year class, both Nishat and Flávia decide on running rival henna businesses even though only Nishat’s culture traditionally uses henna. This final issue opens the novel up to the theme of cultural appropriation.
Yes, there is a lot going on in The Henna Wars, but in my opinion, the disparate tensions and themes that Nishat is forced to content with make for a better, more realistic and nuanced story that would otherwise be the case. I already had empathy for how much more difficult in can be for people of colour to be out to their families, friends, and communities, I found that seeing these challenges through Nishat’s eyes made me even more aware of the challenges that queer people of colour face.
If you’re worried that this novel will be a downer, then don’t. In fact, it ultimately leaves readers with a sense of hope and many very swoony moments. The romantic tension is super cute from beginning to end, and readers will be rooting for Nishat and Flávia to find a way to get over their miscommunication and the obstacles in their way to finding love. This romantic connection isn’t Nishat’s only relationship that grows and changes in positive ways, but I’ll let you experience them for yourself.
Finally, one of the things that I enjoyed in the eGalley version I read was how Adiba Jaigirdar doesn’t make it easy for people, like myself, who are outsiders to Nishat’s Bangladeshi culture to understand every detail of it. She doesn’t explain what a particular traditional garment looks like or what a type of food is, so people who are of the culture have an insiders view, and people, like myself, might have to work a little harder to get a deeper understanding of it. I looked up several words through the Kindle app and on Google to visualize the world I was being given the privilege of entering.
Similarly, there are moments later in the book between Nishat and Flávia where they exhange insults in their limited French, which I could easily understand, and moments where Flávia and her mother speak in Portuguese in front of Nishat and Chyna, where I had to look up the meaning of the exchanges via Google Translate to get the most out of the book. While I can’t say whether all readers will appreciate these aspects of The Henna Wars, for me, the work I put into reading the novel made for a better experience and allowed me to learn more. That’s a win-win in my book.
If you’re interested in picking up a really cute, debut f/f romance that also tackles some important issues for queer teens of colour, then don’t miss The Henna Wars. It’s a book that you will, inevitably, want on your bookshelf and will recommend to anyone and everyone…just like I do.
Buy The Henna Wars today for a great price!