The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar—A Sapphic YA Contemporary That Challenges Cultural Appropriation [Book Review]

Allow me to recount my first ever job: I was good at henna designing and when—in eight grade—the beauty parlours around my house were in search of more staff during the busy days before Eid, I decided to see if I could do it. Guess what? I did draw henna on hands for five days and got 50 Dirhams $14 (which isn’t much, honestly). Well, I had almost forgotten about the happiness I got that week all those years ago and this book helped me reminisce.

REVIEW OF ARU SHAH AND THE TREE OF WISHES BY ROSHANI CHOKSHI

Title: The Henna Wars
Author: Adiba Jaigirdar
Publisher: Page Street Kids
Date of Publish: May 12, 2020

Summary:

Nishat doesn’t want to lose her family, but she also doesn’t want to hide who she is, and it 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 decide to showcase their talent as henna artists. In a fight to prove who is the best, their lives become more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush, especially since Flávia seems to like her back.

As the competition heats up, Nishat has a decision to make: stay in the closet for her family, or put aside her differences with Flávia and give their relationship a chance.

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The Henna Wars is a slight tug at one’s heartstrings with a sapphic romance budding through the fields of authentic cultural and religious representation along with an excellent portrayal of a young desi lesbian girl challenging the evident cultural appropriation around her.

Representation: Bangladeshi-Irish & Lesbian Muslim MC + Brazilian-Irish & Bisexual MC.
Ownvoices: South-Asian representation.
Trigger Warnings: challenged racism, homophobia, bullying, cultural appropriation, and character being outed.

LET’S SHINE A DESERVING SPOTLIGHT ON THE INSPIRING PROTAGONIST WHO IS COMING OF AGE.

Nishat is a gem. It’s never easy to create a young character who stays realistic with the societal doubts setting in but also depicts the inspirational traits of standing up for what’s right, but Nishat is the perfect mix. She believes in her perspective and the love for her culture, for her sexual orientation, and for her religion. There is nothing that stops her from enlightening, educating, or explaining these perspectives—and others—to those around her that have wrong different opinions. And this makes for a protagonist who not only deserves support but also demands it.

THE PERFECT SOUTH-ASIAN FAMILY PORTRAYALA SISTER WHO BECOMES THE SOURCE OF STRENGTH, CONSERVATIVE IMMIGRANT PARENTS, AND RELATIVES INVITED TO CELEBRATE ACADEMIC RESULTS.

Priti, Nishat’s younger sister, is a ball of sunshine and the one who genuinely has our main character’s back. She’s the epitome of every sister we all wish we had or some might be lucky enough to already have: she teases her elder sister but also opens up her arms & heart for her Apujan to know the love she’ll always get from this bond.

Nishat’s parents have their walls up—like many Asian immigrants—when the idea of changing systems or accepting what they had unexpected is put forward. Their elder daughter comes out as a lesbian and their response is predictable but as hurtful as any reaction that involves cold shoulders and communication suspensions would be. The consequential anxiety that Nishat experiences is indicative of the mental impact a ‘suffocating’ South-Asian culture can have.

Not only was the immediate family portrayal on point but even the relatives and far-away acquaintances have their presence marked by realistic, common, and annoying dialogues or unsolicited advises they would deliver—whether in a Bengali wedding or in a get-together meant to celebrate academic results.

AN APPLAUSE FOR THE CULTURAL ESSENCE AND IMPORTANT THEMES FLOWING THROUGH THE MODERN NARRATIVE.

The Henna Wars commendably incorporates the intricate details of a desi culture in Nishat’s narration and creates a story that clearly stands on the foundation inspired by a community the protagonist belongs to. From a recitation of the Bangladeshi delicacies lining a wedding food stall to mentioning jilapis and from the amazing smell of henna to the wholesomeness of daal, this book is a crown jewelled with cultural gems.

This contemporary also pulls important themes to the centre stage in a manner that can be marked as raw, honest, and brave. Whether it’s the cultural appropriation of henna in order to flourish a business a project or bullying that stems from racist assumptions disguised as school jokes; whether it’s the mispronunciation of desi names and the tinge of anger that follows or the disappointing attempt at blinding a queer’s eyes to their sexuality by imposing culture or religion, The Henna Wars does it too well.

SAPPHIC ROMANCE THAT STARTS WITH AN INSTANT CRUSH AND GROWS THROUGH COMPETING HENNA BUSINESSES DISGUISED AS A WAR.

Flavia is Brazilian-Irish and a new admission to Nishat’s school, which makes our lovely protagonist smile wide but also warns herself to stay far away because this new admission is Chyna’s—the bully—cousin. Though, this doesn’t stop Flavia from letting those butterflies flutter, leaving subtle hints, and showing an interest in Nishat. Nor does our lovely Nishat stop stealing quick glances at the pretty girl, wonder what she’s like, and blush at Instagram comments by her crush. Yes, super cute. Yes, super sweet. Yes, you get all the feels.

However, a business project based on henna designing soon becomes the reason for this potential relationship to reach the dead-end before it could even start. There’s a rift between the two, an understandable one since Nishat is protective of her love for henna—simple flowery designs taught to her by her maternal grandmother: Nanuand considers the opposite team’s idea a result of cultural embezzlement. Yes, lots of tension. Yes, lots of sadness. Yes, you will be struck with emotions.

THROWS A MUCH NEEDED LIGHT ON RACISM IN A SETTING MEANT FOR DIVERSE YOUNG STUDENTS TO BE EDUCATED.

A large part of The Henna Wars is dedicated to executing important conversations around racism, microaggressions, and blatant ignorance towards a culture. But the most absurd notion it absolutely condemns is that of a privileged white eyeing diversity as a ‘trend’ they can either downright shame as a spur of the moment waiting to die down or use to build their mountains of profit on. As a reader of colour, I personally appreciate this book’s narrative.

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this via Netgalley but that, in no way, influences my rating or review. Thank you, Page Street Kids & Adiba Jaigirdar!

I’m in no place to give detailed comments on the representation of sexual identities or the religion of characters in this book so please pay heed to the ownvoices reviews for these representations above mine. I’m only positive about my opinions regarding the culture depicted and racism challenged.

Read This YA Contemporary Mystery Of Three Sisters & A Cold Night || Frozen Beauty by Lexa Hillyer [Blog Tour]

Title: Frozen Beauty
Author: Lexa Hillyer
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publishing Date: March 17, 2020
Age Category & Genre: Young Adult Mystery, Contemporary

Synopsis:

Everyone in Devil’s Lake knows the three golden Malloy sisters—but one of them is keeping a secret that will turn their little world inside out….

No one knows exactly what happened to Kit in the woods that night—not even her sisters, Tessa and Lilly. All they have are a constellation of facts: icy blue lips and fingers cold to the touch, a lacy bra, an abandoned pick-up truck with keys still in the ignition.

Even though everyone is quick to jump to conclusions, Tessa is certain that her sister’s killer wasn’t Boyd, the boy next door whom they’ve all loved in their own way. Still, there are too many details that don’t add up, too many secrets tucked away in the past.

But no matter how fiercely Tessa searches for answers, at the core of that complicated night is a truth that’s heartbreakingly simple.

Frozen Beauty is a silent storm of an emotional loss, secret revelations, a mystery waiting to unfold, and a sisterly bond that is vividly contrasting and yet strong. After the death of an elder sister among three, the family and younger sisters are devastated but the aftermath of a witness testifying and consequential placement of the good neighbour boy behind bars is tough and doesn’t bring closure at all. The mystery around what happened, on a dark night in the woods, to a perfect young girl—daughter, sister & friend—ensues. While the thrill isn’t a persistent vibe, the snow-clad setting creates a great atmosphere to paint a saddening yet hopeful picture. There is a certain enigma spread throughout the split timelines and with a splendid writing narrating the story in a mysterious voice, this YA contemporary slightly inspired by Red Riding Hood can certainly impress.

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this via my participation in a blog tour but that, in no way, affects my rating and/or review. Thank you, FFBC tours, Lexa Hillyer, and HarperTeen! This post may contain affiliate links which means I earn a percentage of your purchase using the link without any extra cost to you. Please consider buying through these affiliate links if you wish to support the blog. Thank you!

Click & enter to win one signed hard copy of Frozen Beauty! 🎉

US Only. Ends March 31, 2020.

Lexa Hillyer is the Founder and President of Publishing at Glasstown Entertainment, an all-woman creative development and production company located in New York and Los Angeles. She is also the author of Frozen Beauty,Spindle Fire, Winter Glass, and Proof of Forever, all young adult novels published by HarperCollins, as well as the poetry collection Acquainted with the Cold from Bona Fide Books.

Acquainted with the Cold was the 2012 gold prize winner of the Foreword Book of the Year Award for Poetry and received the Melissa Lanitis Gregory Poetry Prize. Her work has been featured in a variety of journals and collections including Best New Poets 2012, and she has received several honors for poetry. Lexa earned her BA in English from Vassar College and her MFA in Poetry from Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine. She worked as an editor at both HarperCollins and Penguin, before founding Glasstown Entertainment along with New York Times Bestselling author Lauren Oliver. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter and their very skinny orange tree.

Website | Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter

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