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.
Everyone’s been talking about this book all year, and I’ve been patiently waiting for the UK release date (January 7th, 2021). So when I was offered the chance to review it for the upcoming blog tour, I don’t think I’ve ever answered an email so quickly in my life! And boy did The Henna Wars hold up to the hype!
Rating: 5 stars!
Thanks to BKMARK for the ARC of this book. It has not affected my honest review.
Trigger Warnings: outing of a main character, racism, homophobia.
About the book:
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.
What did I think?
I set myself a nice, sensible reading goal of the first 25% of The Henna Wars when I first picked it up. And then I accidentally read the entire book in a single sitting, stopping only to whine at Tal about my damaged feelings. I absolutely adored this book, and I’m so glad that I got the chance to read it. I can’t quite explain how full my heart feels at repeatedly and openly seeing a character described as a lesbian on page – no matter how many queer books I read, it still means everything to me. I wish The Henna Wars had been around for me to read when I was a teenager.
Nishat’s story was a gorgeous, heart-aching story of family and identity and I adored the way that she was shown trying to balance her cultural identity with her sexuality without compromising either. It’s difficult in a way that I can’t imagine – when I was dealing with my own teenage outing, at least I knew that my family were mostly accepting – but Adiba does an incredible job at portraying all of Nishat’s heart-break and struggle without losing the thread of hope and queer joy that made me want to keep devouring the book. It tackles racism and homophobia in a straightforward way, showing it without innuendo or metaphor to hide how brutal and pervasive racism and homophobia can be in the UK, even coming from the people closest to us, and to Nishat. The rawness of Nishat’s feelings when she discussed the cultural appropriation, particularly when it was coming from people who were either forthrightly racist to her or bombarded her with microaggressions, made it really hit home to me how casual and callous people (let’s be real here, almost always white people) can be about taking other cultures and identities and exploiting them for our own entertainment.
The developing relationships in this book are truly what make The Henna Wars such a treasure to read. Nishat and Flávia’s relationship is slow to develop as they overcome rivalry, family issues, coming out and a clash over the cultural appropriation involved in their henna competition. I particularly enjoyed the way that the characters were seen to be educating and informing themselves, something that I and my fellow white readers can do better at. While Nishat and Flávia’s blooming relationship was a treasure to watch, my true delight was the relationship between Nishat and Priti, her younger sister. Seeing the dogged loyalty and unconditional love between them was incredible and truly made Nishat’s struggle more bearable – I was so glad that she had someone in her corner no matter what, and their bond is a delight.
The writing itself was fun and easy to read, the dialogue felt so natural between the characters and I adored the way that they felt like authentic teenagers throughout. It also portrayed both queer joy and Bengali joy and I loved learning about Bengali culture through Nishat’s life but also through googling the parts of the book I didn’t recognise. I adored this book and I can’t wait for Adiba’s next release now, after reading The Henna Wars I just know it’s a must read.
Release Date: January 7th 2021