Release date: May 12, 2020
“Of course Muslims can be gay. How can anyone think otherwise? The two aren’t mutually exclusive. I am the living, breathing proof.”Adiba Jaigirdar, The Henna Wars
The Henna Wars is a book I heard of more recently through BookTok, and after seeing the long waitlist at my local library, I decided to listen to the audiobook. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about it, since I usually prefer fantasy books, but I absolutely loved it! It follows Nishat, a Bengali Irish lesbian girl, as her life begins to re-intertwine with a girl from her elementary school, Flávia.
This book ended up being a lot more than I expected, and 100% worth the read! It’s a great romance, and an important own voices narrative with cultural, religious, and wlw representation. Please make sure to read content/trigger warnings before reading this.
(Also this cover is amazing!)
This book deals with quite a lot, but it surrounds Nishat’s business class project, which is for each student – or group of students – to create their own business. After putting henna on her sister at a wedding and receiving positive feedback on Instagram, Nishat decides to start her own henna business. However, she learns that Flávia, who is biracial (Brazilian and Irish), teams up with her cousin Chyna and also decides to do henna for her project. Nishat, who really likes Flávia, is angered by the fact that they are appropriating her culture. She tells her this on several occasions, but Flávia doesn’t quite seem to understand why there is something wrong with what she is doing, nor does she see henna as anything other than art.
The Henna Wars also deals with the “trendiness” of cultures. Chyna is quite a popular person at her school, and so many people want to hop on the “trend” that she’s “created” with henna. While henna becomes seen as something cool, especially when done by Chyna and Flávia, other parts of Nishat’s culture are not, such as food, which is never spoken of in high regards by Nishat’s classmates.
I absolutely loved Nishat. She was such a strong character who was really comfortable with who she was and not afraid to defend herself. As a Muslim, and as a teenager going to an all girls Catholic school, Nishat doesn’t have a lot of support when it comes to her sexuality. Through all the scrutinization and conversations where she is told “Muslim girls aren’t lesbian” or that she needs help, Nishat stands strong. However, this obviously takes a toll on her, especially with her family’s views. Nishat’s sister Priti is her #1 support, and their relationship is one of my favourite parts of this book, and so important in the story.
Flávia was really hard to like at some times, especially with the comments she makes about Nishat not being an artist, and her unwillingness to listen to Nishat tell her about why henna is more than just art. Nishat is pretty conflicted when it comes to her feelings for Flávia, but as Flávia opens up, we really see a different side to her and her story.
I really loved this book. There is so much to discuss with this book, but I also want to keep it spoiler-free, so please go pick up this book, and if you’ve read it, leave me a comment with your thoughts! 🙂