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.