The Henna Wars

When Dimple Met Rishi meets Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda in this rom com about two teen girls with rival henna businesses.

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, Adiba Jaigirdar
May 12, 2020

This story opens with something I haven’t seen in a YA book in a long time, if ever. Before the epigraph by Janelle Monáe, there’s a content warning on how “this book contains instances of racism, homophobia, bullying, and a character being outed.” Those two contrasting statements, Janelle Monáe’s lyrics,

“I donate my truth to you like I’m rich/ The truth is love ain’t got no off switch”

versus the content warning shows from the beginning how this The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar is an act of love and warning for young readers. It’s the truest form of caring an author can put into a book.

I also want to address the fact that yes I am a white, cisgender, male reviewing this book and how, because of that, the lenses I use to review books can be privileged in certain ways. That being said, right now there are many books being shared on how to educate white people about racism and straight people on the prejudice that members of the LGBTQI+ community face; this book belongs in those conversations.

In Adiba Jaigirdar’s debut novel she has, as far as I can tell, successfully tackled racism, homophobia, and bullying in a way that if any reader ignores it is because they are choosing to do so. Jaigirdar not only has written a beautiful book about love, but she has also given the world an inside look into what it is like to grow up as a queer person of color. This shouldn’t have to be an educational tool for white straight people, but I am glad it exists to educate people as well as tell a truly heartwarming story about love and independence. The next time book lists are being shared on how to educate white straight people on what it is like to be something other than white and straight this book better be in the top five of every single list.

There’s something beautiful about reading one of your favorite books for the first time. It’s an amazing experience to have. Now, let’s get to the heart of The Henna Wars. This is a story about Nishat after all. There are a few plot lines that are constantly, beautifully intertwined. There is the story of Nishat coming out to her family, Nishat’s relationship with her sister, Nishat’s crush on Flávia, Nishat’s conflict with Chyna, and Nishat’s determination to have a successful henna business. Honestly, when you think about all that being contained in 383 pages it seems impossible, but Adiba Jaigirdar does it.

Jaigirdar does a masterful job at storytelling. This should be used in teaching courses to show young readers how to weave their storytelling. Add in the message of acceptance, intolerance towards racism and homophobia, and the importance of believing in yourself, and this book needs to be taught in schools as well as MFA in Creative Writing programs.

Adiba Jaigirdar has one of the most genuine YA voices I have ever read. There is not a single moment in this book where Jaigirdar’s voice is didactic. In fact, that’s another one of the beautiful parts of Jaigirdar’s writing.

Nishat has two friends, Jess and Chaewon. Honestly, they are two of the best friends a person can ask for. Yet, when it comes to teaching Jess about racist comments and racist behavior, she reacts defensively. She doesn’t believe Nishat when Nishat says how another girl is being racist or how other people doing henna is cultural appropriation. This scene is important and really demonstrates how to write a scene that is educational towards ignorant (purposefully or not) white people of the microaggressions that people of color face regularly. This scene is perfectly done, it never loses that young adult voice that Jaigirdar is a master of. Jaigirdar is able to tell white readers what ignorance looks like and subtle ways that racism can influence people’s world views. Again, all told in a genuine young adult voice without ever being preachy. It is truly amazing because before you know it you’ve flown through 50, 90, 200 pages of a beautiful story and characters you want to see succeed.

I cannot emphasize this enough, this book is full of love and struggle. The love story between Nishat and Flávia shows what love is. Reading the story of Nishat falling for and fighting her feelings for Flávia, watching Flávia be hesitant, and the eventual kiss is a love story I will not soon forget.

The Henna Wars is dedicated to queer brown girls, but this book is for everyone. Not only is this love story the best love story I’ve read in many years, but the message the book teaches is even better. As Adiba Jaigirdar writes in The Henna Wars, “It doesn’t seem like much. But sometimes just being yourself—really, truly yourself—can be the most difficult thing to be,” but that is what life is all about. I hope you all pick up The Henna Wars and give this book the love it deserves. I won’t be surprised when the cover of this book becomes rightfully decorated with award medals.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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Published by D.S. Davis

Hello, my name is D.S. Davis. I am a YA and Middle Grade writer currently seeking an agent. I am the MFA in Creative Writing program coordinator at Sierra Nevada University, where I graduated in January 2020 having studied specifically writing for children and young adults. I'm a Jersey boy who has moved to Truckee, California in pursuit of mountain living and to immerse myself in the writing program that changed my life. I can be found on Twitter and Instagram @thedsdavis

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