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  • Cute, f/f debut that you don't want to miss!

    Have you ever read a book that is cute, heartwarming, and heartbreaking all at the same time? The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar has the cuteness and heartwarming parts of a Desi romance that you loved about When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon with a queer romance that is the f/f equivalent of Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda. Added to this mix, I would add that Nishat's experience has a dash of heartbreak, which makes it an emotional, but realistic, read at times. In many 2SLGBTQIA+ YA novels where the characters aren't already out, such as Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, the coming out moment is one that the main character isn't ready for and the tension about whether they will tell anyone, who they might tell, and whether they'll be publicly outed first drives the narrative. In The Henna Wars, Nishat has already come out to her younger sister, Priti. However, the novel opens with a fast approaching Bangladeshi community wedding and when Nishat realizes that her parents are imagining the joy they'll experience when their daughters get married in the traditional way, she decides to come out to her mother, Ammu. This moment and the tension it causes within their family unit drives a lot of the narrative and makes Nishat hold off on coming out to her school friends. It also leads to a very emotional moment in the book between Nishat and her mother, which caused me to cry while I was reading, because Ammu couldn't accept that who Nishat was wasn't a choice and was a cause of shame. Beyond the growing familial tension caused by Nishat coming out as a lesbian, The Henna Wars centres around the romantic tension between Nishat and Flávia and the racism and, eventually, the homophobia that Nishat experiences at her all-girls Catholic school in Dublin, Ireland. Flávia is, for some never clarified reason, at Sunny Apu's wedding, the same one where Nishat and Priti are bridesmaids. At the wedding, Nishat and Flávia recognize one another even though they haven't seen each other since primary school. While Nishat is attracted to Flávia, a beautiful black, biracial Brazillian-Irish, bisexual girl, but assumes that she won't see her again, but all that changes when Flávia starts attending the very same school. Unfortunately, Flávia is also the cousin of a white girl named Chyna who is the bane of Nishat's existence ever since she started racist rumours about her at the beginning of secondary school. Similarly, Nishat experiences tension between her friends Jess and Chaewon when Jess rejects Nishat's suggestion that Chyna's comments are racist and Chaewon doesn't back up Nishat's understanding of the experience. Finally, when it comes time to create and run a business for their transition year class both Nishat and Flávia end up running rival henna businesses even though only Nishat's culture would traditionally use henna, which opens up the theme of cultural appropriation. Yes, there is a lot going on in The Henna Wars, but in my opinion, the disparate tensions and themes that they force Nishat to contend with make for a better, more realistic and nuanced story than would otherwise be the case. While I already had a lot of empathy for how much more difficult it could be for people of colour to be out to their families, friends, and communities, I found that seeing Nishat's experience made me even more aware of the challenges that queer people of colour could face. At the same time, I loved that things come full circle over the course of the novel and ultimately, leave readers with a sense of hope and many very swoony moments. The romantic connection is super cute from beginning to end, and readers will be rooting for Nishat and Flávia to find a way to get over the miscommunication and the obstacles in their way to finding love. Of course, this romantic connection isn't Nishat's only relationship that grows and changes in positive ways, but I'll let you experience it for yourself. Finally, one of the things I enjoyed in the eGalley version I read was that, Adiba Jaigirdar doesn't make it easy for people, like myself, who are outside of the Bangladeshi culture to understand every detail. She doesn't explain what a particular tradition garment looks like or food is, so people who are of the culture have an insiders view, and people, like myself, might have to work a little harder to get a deeper understanding of it. I, personally, looked up a bunch of words, especially in the first few chapters, both through the Kindle app and on Google to be able to visualize the world I was being given the privilege of entering. Similarly, there are moments later in the book between Nishat and Flávia where they exchange insults in French, which I could easily understand, and moments where Flávia and her mother speak in Portuguese in front of Nishat and Chyna, where I had to look up the meaning of the exchanges via Google Translate to get the most out of the book as the eGalley didn't provide a translation to readers.

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