Is there anything as beautiful as feeling represented in media?
The Henna Wars was one of my most anticipated releases of the year, and I’m so excited for everyone else to be able to read and love this as much as I did. I expected a lot of things going in to this book, but I honestly was really surprised by how much I connected to the main character as a queer person of color!
I’m here today to hopefully convince you all to pick up this wonderful book. I know a lot of people are eagerly awaiting this book’s release, and you will not be disappointed!
Adiba Jaigirdar || May 12, 2020
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.
Thank you to Page Street for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! This did not affect my opinion in any way.
All quotes are from an advance copy and may differ in final publication.
It’d be a lie to say that I didn’t have high expectations for this book. (I mean, the premise is essentially “what if we were business rivals who may or may not have feelings for each other? and we were both girls?” so how could I not.) And I’m very happy to say that I was not disappointed in the least!
The Henna Wars follows a Bengali girl named Nishat, who just came out to her parents and has to figure out how to not crumble under the despairing weight of their rejection and denial of her lesbian identity. Among this, she has to deal with racism and homophobia at her school and a business competition in which her culture is appropriated.
What I want more than anything else in the world is to feel like being myself isn’t something that should be hidden and a secret.
While there are so many things to love about this book, I think I love Nishat herself the most. She’s an incredible character written so, so well, and the level of attention that the author pays to her is delightfully satisfying. Nishat yearns to be unapologetically herself in a world that will do anything to stop her, and it’s both heartbreaking yet inspiring to read.
There are two relationships that Nishat has that really stand out to me, the ones with Flávia, her crush, and Priti, her sister. The romance is so sweet and you want them to be together so much, and throughout the story Nishat wonders, Does Flávia like girls? Can I get together with my business rival who’s appropriating my culture? But even though the romance is a big part of the novel, it also doesn’t overtake Nishat’s own personal development, which I loved!
I also adored the way Nishat and Priti were close; in fact, I think their relationship was more prominent than the romance, which I appreciated. Their relationship is probably the closest sister relationship I’ve read, and as someone close to my sister, I loved seeing Nishat and Priti support each other throughout the story.
I wouldn’t call this story a cute fluffy story, though. It deals with racism and homophobia, and throughout the book, Nishat has to deal with her culture, henna, being appropriated by others for profit. But the author handles these intricately and effectively balances them out with more lighthearted content!
But sometimes just being yourself—really, truly yourself—can be the most difficult thing to be.
I can’t speak on the specifics of the representation, but as a sapphic Asian child of immigrants like Nishat, there was so many scenes that resonated with me. I’m incredibly fortunate not to have homophobic parents who come from a country where being gay is punishable by death, but I relate to Nishat’s grief over having to hide who she is like it’s a dirty secret, relate to Nishat’s struggle to reconcile her conservative homeland’s ideas about who she is, relate to Nishat’s heartache over feeling out of place in a majorly white world.
I also appreciated how the author critiqued Bangladesh and the homophobic beliefs the people there carry, but also celebrated and showed Nishat’s love for her Bengali culture. It represents a struggle for so many queer immigrants of color—to now live in a country where your sexuality is more accepted, but to still yearn for your homeland, even though they might reject you for your sexuality.
How can you feel fully loved and accepted when there’s a part of you that’s different and unwanted in both your homes? How can you feel whole when the separate parts of your identity are supposed to somehow cancel each other out? How can you be Bengali, and lesbian, and Muslim, and not feel like all those things are tearing at you? These are the questions Nishat has to find the answers to, and exactly why ownvoices stories are needed—I’m not sure a queer author or author of color may have captured the nuances of the QPOC experience as well as this.
“I love you, Apujan,” she whispers. “And I’m so damn proud of you. I hope you know that.”
There were a few times where I wasn’t quite in love with the writing style. I sometimes found it to be a bit bland, and I also wished we had seen a bit more from the side characters. These things might have been enough to lower my rating just slightly—if not for how much I absolutely adored Nishat and connected to her! I was just so invested in her and her journey, and I think every reader will feel the same.
Overall, I adored this book, and I cannot wait for more readers to get their hands on it, especially sapphic people of color. It’s a story I deeply related to, and one I know others will too. Beyond that, it’s a cute sapphic romance that manages to tackle social issues without making things too heavily, and while your heart will break at some parts, you definitely will find yourself smiling by the end!
:: rep :: Bengali Muslim lesbian MC, Brazilian-Irish (Afro-Latinx) bisexual LI, side Bengali characters, side Korean character
:: content warnings :: racism, homophobia, bullying, a character being outed
are you excited to read the henna wars? (you should be!) what other f/f books do you love? what about QPOC stories??