The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar
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.
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Trigger warnings: homophobia, racism, bullying and a character being outed.
The Henna Wars has one of my favourite contemporary book covers ever, I honestly can’t stop looking at it, there’s so much beauty in all the details. I can’t wait to display this beautiful sapphic book on my bookshelf! I’m shocked that this is a debut novel as the author has sensitively discussed some possibly triggering topics in such a smooth and sweet storyline. The Henna Wars includes a character being publicly outed as LGBTQ+ to their entire school, cultural appropriation as well as homophobia and racism. I thought the cultural appropriation was discussed and explained in a particularly detailed manner which will educate readers of any age.
The positive sisterhood featured in this book was an aspect I’ve been missing in my recent reads. It was wonderful to read about two sisters who were determined to be there for each other, no matter what. The unconditional love between Nishat and Priti, especially when Nishat was struggling with her feeling of belonging within their family due to her sexuality, was uplifting and heartening to read about.
I haven’t previously read a f/f love story centred around a competition, but the competitiveness between Nishat and Flávia spoke to my soul! It was refreshing to also read about a competition that wasn’t at all sports related, the Henna war added an interesting dynamic to this slow burn romance! The teens within the story are given the task of creating a business, this begins to show the cracks in some relationships, both old and new. As well as including the romance between Nishat and Flávia, the novel also explored the friendships between teenagers and how quickly they can break up and rebuild. Nishat calling out her lifelong friends on their ignorance was also a particularly stand out moment, it’s important to realise when your ignorance or passivism is negatively affecting others.
This brilliant debut deserves every ounce of hype, The Henna Wars is a very honest and authentic take on teenage life with a beautifully diverse yet at times painful f/f romance. I would highly recommend this debut to all contemporary fans!
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