Saturday, 9 January 2021

The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar

The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar
Published by Hodder Children's Books on the 29th October 2020.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nishat and Flávia are rivals at school, but Nishat can't help the secret crush burning in her heart - even though her parents disapprove of the fact she likes girls. Can she possibly find her happy ever after? A gorgeous, heart-warming, queer YA love story for fans of Becky Albertalli. 

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 lose her family, but she also doesn't want to hide who she is, which only gets harder once Flávia walks into her life.

Beautiful and charismatic, Flávia takes Nishat's breath away. But as their lives become tangled, they're caught up in a rivalry that gets in the way of any feelings they might have for each other.

Can Nishat find a way to be true to herself... and find love too?

I absolutely loved reading The Henna Wars and am astounded that this heartwarming novel is Adiba Jaigirdar's debut. She is such a talented storyteller and I will definitely be looking out for more of her writing in the future. I very nearly didn't request the book from NetGalley because I was wary that a Hodder Children's Book would be too young a read for me to fully appreciate it. Thank goodness I decided to take a chance because, while The Henna Wars is about teenagers, the themes it addresses are just as relevant to readers of my more advanced years (and even older!) and Jaigirdar's prose style has the energy of youth, but without feeling childish.

I loved the Irish setting and the honest portrayals of family relationships and friendships throughout the story. Nishat in particular relishes her strong connection to her parents so is understandably hurt when they cannot immediately accept her coming out. That their own marriage was shocking to the generation before doesn't seem to be enough for them to overcome ingrained prejudice and Nishat had envisaged. However Nishat doesn't just turn away and give up on them and I thought this idea of fighting to repair a formerly strong bond was the real heart of the novel. 

Nishat doesn't just have to cope with her parents' reaction though because there is also the question of intolerance from other pupils at her predominantly Catholic school. The Henna Wars taught me a lot about how thoughtlessness and ignorance impacts individual members on minority groups, especially when they are struggling to overcome prejudice on multiple levels. Nishat is already upset by racism aimed at her for her Muslim identity. Now she must also address homophobia and the cultural appropriation of Desi henna tradition. All this should make The Henna Wars feel rather a dour read, but Jaigirdar deftly manages to keep the tone light while also, I felt, doing justice to Nishat. The authenticity of the characters and their motivations impressed me - these are mostly young women still finding their feet after all - and I will admit to having a tear or two in my eye at certain moments. 

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Adiba Jaigirdar / Young adult fiction / Books from Bangladesh

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