Book Review

The Henna Wars

The Henna Wars

  • Author: Adiba Jaigirdar
  • Genre: YA Romance
  • Publication Date: May 12, 2020
  • Publisher: Page Street Kids

TRIGGER WARNING: racism, homophobia, bullying, a character being outed

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Nishat’s parents say she can be anyone she wants — as long as she isn’t a lesbian.

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 talents 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.

This book has definitely been on my radar, even though I am generally not a huge fan of romance. But there was just something about this one that I couldn’t resist. And it definitely didn’t disappoint. 

The romance itself was not only hilarious, it was super sweet and wholesome. There was just enough back and forth to keep me hooked and flipping pages way past my bedtime. I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next. In addition, there was the super intriguing aspect of the business competition between Nishat and Flávia. The competition got kind of ugly at times, and you know how group projects go. There’s always a villain and this book’s villain was definitely the kind you LOVE to hate. 

Nishat, the main character, is smart, creative, and a little socially awkward. In short, she’s someone that I really like and found incredibly endearing. In addition, she’s got a great sense of humor with just the right amount of snark. She had me giggling to myself quite a few times throughout the story. 

“Because I am eloquent and amazing at expressing myself, to Priti I say, “Because it’s just different, okay?”

And for all the lightheartedness of the story, it also touches on some really deep issues without the book becoming oppressively heavy. Nishat is an immigrant who is torn between two very different cultures, as a Bengali Muslim living in Ireland, and on top of that, she’s decided to live as her authentic self and chooses to come out to her (very traditional) parents early in the story. Obviously, that doesn’t go over very well, since they hold very rigid views on what is acceptable.

“After all, it’s not just Bengali relationships that are complicated, is it? It’s this weird, suffocating culture that tells us exactly who or what we should be. That leaves no room to be anything else.”

Not only is this judgment coming from her parents, but also from others in her tight-knit Bengali community. Her parents and others seem to view Nishat’s sexuality as not only shameful within the framework of her culture, but something that is incompatible with being Muslim. Thankfully Nishat has some support, but she’s still strongly affected by these views. 

“I would laugh if this weren’t such a ridiculous claim. Because of course Muslims can be gay. How can anyone even think otherwise? The two aren’t mutually exclusive. I am living, breathing proof.”

Being a visible minority in such a homogenous community isn’t easy either. Nishat is one of the only Brown girls at her school, and understandably spends a lot of time with her sister, with whom she’s close in age. When she starts getting to know Flávia, she realizes that they have some things in common, aside from a budding attraction. 

“It’s funny that Flávia and I are from such different parts of the world but our parents have the same philosophy. They shifted us halfway across the world, risking our culture, putting us in the middle of two nations and giving us an identity crisis, all because they believe it gives us more opportunities.”

I really enjoyed this story, and I’m really looking forward to her next book which is being released in May of 2021. This is one of the cutest and sweetest and funniest romances that I’ve read this year, and I will definitely be shouting about this one from the rooftops, so just go and read it, will ya?

5 replies »

  1. Great review, Leah! I really enjoyed this one as well when I read it earlier this year. I really got the whole ‘identity crisis’ thing having grown up internationally. I thought that Jaigirdar did a fabulous job with that aspect, and she portrayed teenage characters and sisterly relationships really well too! Can’t wait to read more of her 😃

    Liked by 1 person

    • I loved this story so much 😍 I immediately requested her upcoming book on NetGalley after finishing this. And while I didn’t grow up internationally, I did identify to some degree, since I grew up outside of mainstream culture as the child of an immigrant and part of a non-dominant group.


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