Book Review: The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar

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Book: The Henna Wars

Author: Adiba Jaigirdar

Rating: ☆☆☆☆

Trigger warning: Racism, homophobia, bullying, cultural appropriation, character being outed.

But sometimes just being yourself—really, truly yourself—can be the most difficult thing to be.

I had hopes for this book and I’m so happy to state that I wasn’t disappointed. Initially, I was a tad bit skeptical. But the author with her amazing talent managed to captivate me. Also, can we all take a moment to appreciate how adorable the cover is!

The story follows Nishat, a Bangladeshi Muslim and gay, who just came out to her parents with hope that they’d accept her. But what she receives is complete cold silence from her parents.

White people like to pretend that race is only as deep as the colour of our skin- maybe because the colour of their skin gets them so many benefits.

But race is so much more than that. Good things and bad things. And when you’re Brown or Black, it shapes you in life.

The book touches so many different themes, from sisterhood to bullying, homophobia, family, religious hypocrisy, cultural appropriation and racism- the author handled all wonderfully.

I’m too tired to hear then discuss me. I’m too tired to hear them judge me. I’m too tired.

Now Nishat, I wasn’t really a big fan of her at first. She seemed too full of herself, stubborn and petty imo. But all throughout the book, I couldn’t help but think that she had every right to be. Her character grew a lot over the chapters.

But I’m tired of being ashamed. My choice is clearly laid out in front of me. I’m going to choose me.

She’s extremely strong-minded and constantly had to fight the exploitation of her culture, racist and homophobic remarks from her classmates. So I definitely felt for her and relate to a lot of the Bengali hypocrisy that she had to go through. I was so angry that she was belittled by almost everyone around her just for being herself. And she couldn’t even fight back because no one would listen. Life as a queer person of colour is so hard in ways I cannot even imagine and the author portrays that struggle in such a raw way.

“I love you Apujan,” she whispers. “And I’m so damn proud of you. I hope you know that.”

But all throughout this Nishat had her light in the darkest time, her support system, her sister, Priti. I loved her so much. She’s the perfect sister. Their relationship reminded me so much of my own sister- that you can fight and be mean sometimes, but ultimately you’ll always have each other’s back no matter what.

As much as I loved Priti, I hated China even more. Well, you know those girls who can potentially be your friend but then does something horrible to you at some random party and then turns into your mortal enemy who spreads rumours about you? Yeah, that’s Chyna for you.

The romance aspect wasn’t the main focus of the book. Nishat quickly develops insta crush on Flavia just after they meet. But soon they find themselves at odds over a school project on starting a business. And both of them choose henna- Nishat because it’s her culture, Flavia because she thinks it’s trendy. This is where cultural appropriation comes in. Nishat’s fight to make people understand the difference between being appreciative of a culture and being someone who appropriates it for their own causes was a very realistic struggle.

Sometimes people don’t see the things they do as wrong, but they can see the wrong in what other people do- especially if it’s done to someone they care about.

All in all, this was the perfect blend of serious and sweet read. It’ll break your heart, sure. But you’ll find yourself, heart full, smiling at the end.

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