Posted in Book Reviews

The Henna Wars

thank you ever so much to Page Street Publishing & Lizzy Mason for sending me an ARC of THE HENNA WARS to review! this does not affect my rating or review.

TRIGGER WARNING: HOMOPHOBIA & RACISM

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 HENNA WARS was my most anticipated read of 2020 and i couldn’t be happier to have received an ARC. it made my week, ngl.

in all honesty, the main thing that sparked my interest was Nishat being a Bengali Muslim lesbian. it’s something we so rarely see in books, if at all. so to have that kind of representation, it was everything.

this book broke through so many barriers and judgements, giving a voice to the quietly surviving women of colour, especially Bangladeshi women. especially queer Bangladeshi Muslim women. who feel Other-ed, both in the western country where they migrated to or were born in, and by their own community/family, simply because of their sexuality.

having this struggle written about is more than just finally having that representation. it raises awareness that queer Muslims exist. that queer Bengalis exist. and, obviously, that racism exists.

and with all of that, comes the triple burden of dealing with racism, islamophobia and homophobia. it’s hard enough being a brown woman. add being a brown Muslim woman. and then add being a brown Muslim queer woman.

the struggles are never ending.

THE HENNA WARS doesn’t hesitate to shy away from the troubles faced by many Bengalis. from the start, we see the racist comments made years ago about Nishat, and the lack of understanding from one of her friends.

the “race card” coming into play is an issue that gets discussed briefly. although it was only brief, it was enough for me to feel the rush of anger and hurt that Nishat felt in those moments. Adiba Jaigirdar’s writing, while simplistic, has powerful emotion churning through every sentence. it’s an art form to make a reader feel the emotions a character feels.

whilst racism was a theme in THE HENNA WARS, so was homophobia, from her peers and family. Nishat’s parents refused to allow her to be truly herself, because of the shame it would bring to them.

if anyone found out that she’s a lesbian, it would ruin their izzat.

what would people say?

this is a phrase so many of us Bangladeshis, and South Asians really, hear all the time from our parents. everything is constantly revolving around the family’s reputation and how it would impact the name. how people would react and what they would say.

Nishat’s struggle with being true to who she is and making her parents happy is a struggle that is so heartbreakingly relatable, for so many brown girls. the line between disappointing them beyond measure and losing yourself to make them happy is one that is very thin.

her blossoming romance with Flávia makes her question herself and her family, makes her wonder what would happen. at first, i wasn’t super into the romance between them, i was a little more interested in the rest of the story and Nishat finding herself and standing up to her parents without needing a love interest to encourage her.

but then i realised that despite the romance and the relationship with Flávia, Nishat is still a strong character. although i’m not a huge fan of Nishat herself (i found her a little annoying and too self-centred. i mean seriously, her sister was going through shit, her nani wasn’t well and this girl was only focusing on her own problems), i liked her strength and found it admirable when she was able to keep her head held high despite the odds stacked against her and the shit Chyna was pulling.

of course, the issues she was facing were tough, but it’s not so hard to take notice of what’s happening around you. at least once, stop talking about yourself and ask the person who’s stood by you the entire time how they’re doing.

it’s really not that hard.

despite that, the little date scene was just so. goddamn. cute!!! definitely my favourite part of the entire book.

i do, however, feel like some of the issues could’ve been explored further. for example, one of the reasons her family didn’t want Nishat to “be a lesbian” was because it goes against islam. whilst it’s not haram to be gay, it is haram to act upon the feelings, so for her parents to do a 180 seemed a little unrealistic, as most Muslim parents never do. THE HENNA WARS could’ve been a little longer to explore that angle of it, as the book hadn’t gone in depth about the religious aspect of it all, and being a Muslim is a large part of Nishat’s identity.

i also feel like there could’ve been more done to battle the racist remarks and talked about a little more, seeing as at times, it got brushed over pretty quickly.

other than that, i loved THE HENNA WARS, it’s a 4/5 for me, and i can’t wait for it to come out on May 12th. it was a great read and i’m excited to see what Adiba writes next.

preorder it here.

is THE HENNA WARS on your tbr list? what’s your most anticipated book of 2020?

—Sumaiya

Author:

my to-be-read pile increases every day and i aspire to be blair waldorf. or jacqueline carlyle. or olivia pope.

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