Book review | The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar
Author: Adiba Jaigirdar
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult fiction
No. of pages: 380
To be published on: 12th May 2020
Published by: Page Street Kids
My rating: ★★★★☆
Nishat doesn’t want to lose her family, but she also doesn’t want to hide who she is, and it 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 decide to showcase their talent as henna artists. In a fight to prove who is the best, their lives become more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush, especially since Flávia seems to like her back.
As the competition heats up, Nishat has a decision to make: stay in the closet for her family, or put aside her differences with Flávia and give their relationship a chance.
I am all in for the concept of the book! Nishat's story reverberates with a lot of issues we face today. The story perfectly encapsulates homophobia, racism and cultural appropriation in the most honest and heart-warming way. Nishat's family is Bangladeshi Muslim and they belong to a minority community in Ireland. While her parents fought hard and tough to give Nishat and her sister Priti a comfortable life in Ireland, Nishat and Priti face a different kind of discrimination in their lives - a very subtle sort of a racism, the one that makes you uncomfortable in your own skin. Along with racism, Nishat has to face another kind of discrimination - homophobia. Not only in her school but also from her parents. For Nishat's parents homosexuality is something that simple doesn't 'happen to' Muslim girls. It is beyond their understanding that something like that is possible, something like that is what people 'are', something like that is acceptable, and something like that won't bring shame on the family. And I feel the author has beautifully dealt with these sensitive issues in the book.
The story follows a business competition in Nishat's school. Nishat opens a henna business since the culture has been passed down to her from her grandmother and she has mastered the art. Problem starts when Flávia, a Brazilian student in her class opens a henna business as well. Flávia is herself inspired by Nishat's henna designs and while Flavia simply wants to pursue it because she's great at art, Nishat sees it as an act of stealing her culture. Along with that, Flávia's partner is Chyna, a white girl who had spread racist rumours about Nishat, and this has irked Nishat more. Though Nishat has a huge crush on Flávia, the fact that Flávia is competing against her using her culture has fuelled Nishat's competitiveness to such an extent that made her overlook her relationship with her friends and her sister.
I loved how the author has talked about these delicate subjects dealing from the Bengali and Bangladeshi culture to a young girl's conflicts when it comes to falling in love. The author has beautifully crafted a delightful novel that enriches the reader's view on celebrating one's culture and love, all in one book. Also, the book has lots of pop culture references that I enjoyed reading about and most importantly references from the Bengali culture. Even though I'm a Indian-Bengali, I squealed with joy everytime there was a reference because my culture and Bangladeshi-Bengali culture has the same roots.
There are a whole different and unique bunch of characters in this book and I have to dedicate a whole section to discuss Nishat because she has become my favourite. Nishat has a lot upon herself. She is a young girl who is struggling to be accepted by her parents, her community and has to also deal with a henna competition against her crush and internal homophobia and racism in her school. She has the support of her feisty and free-spirited sister - Priti, but at times when Nishat shows her vulnerabilities, it makes her character so much more likable. Nishat has a personality that most of us would relate to - from being jealous and trying out cheap tricks to hack her competitor's plans, to standing up for her friends against the school bully and calling out her racist comments. Nishat is going to be etched in my memory for a long long time.
I will whole heartedly recommend this book. Do read this when it gets published.
Adiba Jaigirdar is a Bangladeshi and Irish writer and teacher. She has a BA in English and History, and an MA in Postcolonial Studies. She is also a contributor for Book Riot. Currently, she lives in Dublin, Ireland, where she writes with the help of many cups of tea and a lot of Hayley Kiyoko and Janelle Monáe.
I received a copy of the book in exchange of an honest and unbiased review.