A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Adiba Jaigirdar's debut novel The Henna Wars weaves complexities of race, sexuality, religion, and family into a romcom storyline. After her parents react to her coming out as lesbian with cold silence, 15-year-old Nishat, a Bengali immigrant to Dublin, Ireland, pours her energy into launching a henna tattooing business for a school competition. But when Flávia, Nishat's crush, also creates a henna tattooing service for the competition, life gets even more complicated. Positive messages emphasize self-acceptance, the importance of open communication, and a willingness to learn and grow. Teen readers will find much common ground with the characters: crushes, friendship drama, bullying, sibling ups and downs, and the pressures of family. Nishat's Bengali culture and Muslim faith figures prominently in the story, Flávia is biracial (Black Brazilian and White Irish) and bisexual, and most of the other young women characters are White. Nishat and Flávia share a few not-very-intense kisses. Sporadic uses of "damn," "bitch," and "sh--t."
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
THE HENNA WARS begins with a summertime Bengali wedding, where Nishat reconnects with Flávia, an old classmate who had moved away, and they share instant romantic energy. This, and the way she could see her parents looking forward to her own wedding to a nice Bengali man, prompts Nishat to tell her parents that she is lesbian. They meet her coming out with a devastating silence. When school starts, Nishat discovers that Flávia has transferred to her school, and her crush only intensifies. When Nishat and Flávia both decide to start henna tattooing business for a school competition, Nishat is furious that Flavia thinks it's OK to lift an art from Nishat's culture for her own profit. Still, Nishat struggles to let go of her crush on Flávia. Nishat shares a close bond with her sister, Priti, who stands by Nishat through every hard thing she faces.
Is it any good?
This powerful, complex novel masquerades as a queer romance, but has much more going on under the surface. In The Henna Wars, Jaigirdar seamlessly weaves Bengali culture, immigration's impact on Nishat's family, racism, homophobia (within Nishat's Muslim faith and at her Catholic school), cultural pride, and self-acceptance into typical teen life. Nishat is a worthy role model -- she knows she deserves to be accepted and loved for who she is (lesbian, Bengali, Muslim). Scenes between Nishat and her unwaveringly supportive sister, Priti, are among the most compelling: They fight, make up, and love each other fiercely.
Love interest Flávia is less rooted in her Brazilian heritage than Nishat is as a Bengali, and she is also less confident than Nishat in being out about her sexuality. These are very real and very relatable ways that girls of color might navigate the waters of race, ethnicity, and queer love, although some readers may be disappointed that Nishat and Flávia's attraction feels more sweet than passionate. Even so, the typical romcom conclusion feels well-earned by strong young women who had to grow from their mistakes and overcome many obstacles.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the experiences of racism, islamophobia, and homophobia captured in The Henna Wars. How does Nishat respond to these experiences? What about her sister and friends? Are these similar or different to what you witness in your school or community? Who can you go to for support when bullying happens?
Where does Nishat find support when her parents react negatively to her coming out? If a sibling or a friend came out to you as queer or trans, how could you best support them?
Nishat finds a great deal of pride in the Bengali art of mehndi, or henna tattooing, which she learned from her grandmother. What is something you treasure that was given or taught to you by a family member? Why is it important to you?
- Author: Adiba Jaigirdar
- Genre: Romance
- Topics: Activism, Arts and Dance, Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, High School
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Page Street Kids
- Publication date: May 12, 2020
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 13 - 18
- Number of pages: 400
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: August 17, 2020
Our editors recommend
For kids who love romance and LGBTQ stories
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.