The Henna Wars
By Mandie Caroll,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Page-turner romcom takes on race, faith, queer love.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Readers unfamiliar with Bengali culture will learn about one Bengali and Muslim immigrant family's experiences in Ireland. Some Bengali words are not translated (Ammu, Abbu, apujan, etc.), but can be guessed by context.
Family and faith can be complicated; communicating and learning about one another's lives and identities can help improve family relationships. You deserve to be accepted for who you are. You don't have to change yourself to be loved. Admit when you're wrong and grow from the experience.
Positive Role Models
Nishat is a teen who's clear about who she is and doesn't want to be anyone else, though being lesbian is a problem for her parents and being a Bengali Muslim immigrant in Ireland has meant exclusion and racism. Sister Priti is loyal and supportive; the sibling relationship between Priti and Nishat really shines. Nishat's love-interest, Flávia, is biracial (Black Brazilian and White Irish), and shows an impressive capacity for growth throughout the story. Nishat's closest friends are White and Korean Irish. Other characters are White, most characters are young women.
Violence & Scariness
A booth Nishat has set up during a school showcase is vandalized during a lunch break; her booth was likely targeted because she was gay.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Descriptions of attraction and a few tame kisses are shared between two teen girls.
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"Damn," "bitch," and "sh*t" are used a few times each.
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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."
Where to Read
Based on 1 parent review
Cute, Fast Read
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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: June 30, 2022
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Where to Read
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