The Henna Wars

When I tell you that this book has heart, great discussions on racism and cultural appropriation, familial bonds, friendship, and romance, I mean it. For such a seemingly innocent ya contemporary, this book packs a lot into it and all of it is handled with nuance and care. I mean this is exactly the kind of thing we mean when we talk about diverse books. It brings up the things that people of color (in this case our main character, Nishat, is Bengali) deal with and how they feel and it makes what the go through more real to people who haven’t experienced it. It also means that we get to see cute romcoms about diverse people and that is important.

Nishat is a wonderful main character, yes she is a teenager and yes she acts like one, but I’m not sure what you’re expecting from a young adult novel if you don’t think that’s OK. She loves her family, she’s a lesbian, she loves her culture, she has a wonderful relationship with her sister, and she works hard at school. Everything starts to change when she comes out to her parents and she develops a crush on Flávia that has returned to her life after she moved away when they were in primary school. The thing that makes everything bigger and more intense? There’s a competition in the business class for kids to come up with their own business, develop a marketing strategy, actually run the business, and write up a whole report on it. Nishat chooses henna because of how much it means to her in her culture and her natural gift and interest in henna. The only thing is that Flávia also decides to do henna and she has no idea why it upsets Nishat so much, and she doesn’t think there is anything wrong with doing it.

Nishat is such a good main character. Not only does she have flaws, but they are addressed in the story. Not only does she have anxiety, it’s handled well on the page. She’s young and naive and sweet and just wants the best for herself and the people around her. Her fight for her sexuality in her family is undoubtedly relatable to so many readers and I love that there is a full spectrum of reactions because it shows just how complex and messy coming out can be. There is one thing that I have to warn about this book (other than the aforementioned racism) and that is that there is a forced, public outing. I want to warn you before going in in case that is a trigger for you.

If young adult is your genre and you love a good romance, I really think you should read this. It’s rich in culture and teenage drama and it’s just so fun and heartwarming. Please read this! I’m really excited for Adiba Jaigirdar’s next book Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating because it’s got my all time favorite trope: fake dating. I hope you’ll join me in reading that too.

Published by keelinrita

A Chicago girl with a lot of feelings about fictional people.

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