When Dimple Met Rishi meets Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda in this rom com about two teen girls with rival henna businesses.
When Nishat comes out to her parents, they say she can be anyone she wants—as long as she isn’t herself. Because Muslim girls aren’t lesbians. Nishat doesn’t want to hide who she is, but she also doesn’t want to lose her relationship with her family. And her life only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life.
Flávia is beautiful and charismatic and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat choose to do henna, even though Flávia is appropriating Nishat’s culture. Amidst sabotage and school stress, their lives get more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush on Flávia, and realizes there might be more to her than she realized.
With a cover this stunning and a premise so hooking, did the inside of Adiba Jaigirdar’s debut live up to my expectations?
Short answer: YES!
The Henna Wars follows the blossoming romance of Nishat and Flávia – two different girls with two different rival henna businesses as part of a school project. As the stakes get higher with money as a prize for the best business, both girls are determined to make sure they win – but they have to also address the growing feelings that are increasing between them both.
It was so refreshing first of all to read a book set in Dublin. As we followed the story from start to finish, it was so lovely to be able to recognise the different places that our characters visited because I’ve been there numerous times myself. The book’s description was so strong too that it made it so easy to visualise these characters and the setting and it made the book as a whole quite vivid.
I also loved the way Jaigirdar wrote Nishat. She really captured the teen voice and all that comes with growing up – the confusion, frustration, built-up emotion. It felt exactly like being in a teenage girl’s head. The romance between our two main characters was so lovely and sweet too that it’s almost impossible not to root for them from the beginning.
And although this book’s tone is generally cheery, I loved that Jaigirdar didn’t shy away from the harsh realities many teenagers face, like bullying and coming out to a set of parents that aren’t as accepting as you’d like them to be. I really felt Nishat’s struggle and empathised with her so much.
This is truly a wonderful debut from Adiba Jaigirdar, perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Sandhya Menon.
Welcome back to another day of #LGBTQMonth! I hope you’re all keeping well, and keep fighting the #BlackLivesMatter movement – I’m quite active over on my Twitter, but it’s so important for us all to share, sign petitions, donate if you can and shout about this injustice – ESPECIALLY if you are white. It would be so wrong to celebrate pride month without paying heed to the Black and POC communities that paved the way for us!
Today we have the wonderfully talented ADIBA JAIGIRDAR, author of The Henna Wars which was released last month! If you want to purchase, which I definitely recommend, you can find it on Book Depository here!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adiba Jaigirdar was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and has been living in Dublin, Ireland from the age of ten. She has a BA in English and History, and an MA in Postcolonial Studies. She is a contributor for Bookriot. All of her writing is aided by tea, and a healthy dose of Janelle Monáe and Hayley Kiyoko. When not writing, she can be found ranting about the ills of colonialism, playing video games, and expanding her overflowing lipstick collection. She can be found at adibajaigirdar.com or @adiba_j on Twitter and @dibs_j on Instagram.
ABOUT THE HENNA WARS
Nishat doesn’t want to lose her family, but she also doesn’t want to hide who she is, and it only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life. Flávia is beautiful and charismatic, and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat decide to showcase their talent as henna artists. In a fight to prove who is the best, their lives become more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush, especially since Flávia seems to like her back.
As the competition heats up, Nishat has a decision to make: stay in the closet for her family, or put aside her differences with Flávia and give their relationship a chance.
Congratulations on your debut novel, Adiba! What was your journey like from writing The Henna Wars to its publication last month? Was it challenging?
There have been definitely challenges along the way, but I think overall I was very fortunate in having a pretty smooth publication journey. I began writing The Henna Wars in January 2018, and by the end of that year, I had signed with an agent. At the beginning of 2019, I had a book deal. In the publishing world, this is quite fast! I was really lucky because I wrote the book at a time when romcoms were just coming back to the fore (there are a lot of really great romcoms out this year), and obviously the diversity movement has made publishing a lot more inclusive than it was just a couple of years ago. When trying to find an agent, I definitely had some micro-aggressive rejections, and I think that’s a challenge that probably all marginalised writers face. There’s also everything with the coronavirus. The Henna Wars was released in the midst of the pandemic and that’s been a challenge, just because it’s unknown territory. I don’t know how debuting at this time is going to affect the book or my career! It’s also just a time of heightened anxiety, and managing that while working on writing and promoting a book has been a real challenge.
That’s so fair, but I feel like the reaction has definitely been a lot of anticipation! Where did the inspiration come from for this novel?
I was really inspired to write this book because of henna! Growing up, henna was always a part of my life, and I always knew it to be a big part of my culture. But I had never been great at applying henna. So, when I was in Bangladesh a few summers ago visiting my grandmother, I decided I would try and teach myself henna since I had a lot of spare henna tubes. I wasn’t successful—but it gave birth to this idea of two girls who were competitors because of rival henna businesses.
Diversity is so important in YA fiction. Your book features two queer, ethnically diverse characters. Was this an important choice for you?
Honestly, as I was writing this book, it never felt like I chose to include diverse characters within it. This book could not have existed without the diverse characters that exist within its pages. Not just Nishat, whose conflicts in the novel arise from her race, religion, and sexuality—or Flávia—who is caught between appeasing both sides of her biracial family. But also diverse side characters or minor characters that appear in the novel.
Once the idea for the book came to me, it really couldn’t have been written without diversity. I also think it would have been disingenuous to the diversity of culture, faith, and sexuality that I have known, experienced, and been surrounded by my entire life, to write a book that doesn’t honour diversity.
Your house is on fire and you could only save one book. What would it be?
Love From A To Z by S.K. Ali…I could really use a love story after my house burns down, but also I just love that book with all my heart.
What would you say is the most difficult part of your creative process?
Getting started. Whether this is starting a brand new project, or starting revisions…I find that the beginning is always the most difficult, because I’m so convinced that I can’t do it. I’ve forgotten how I’ve managed to achieve it in the past. Once I get started though, things usually get a lot easier.
Agreed!! Do you have a favourite genre to write/read or are you open to many?
My absolute favourite genre to read and write is contemporary. But I really do love reading almost everything. And I would also love to attempt writing any genre. I love writing…and I also love trying to new things and challenging myself. The only genre that I’m not super keen on reading or writing is horror…because I’m a scaredy cat.
Same tbh! I love when authors include little easter eggs in their work unknown to the reader. Are there any little secrets in The Henna Wars that only you or your friends and family would find?
There aren’t really any specific Easter eggs for friends and family, but there are a few jokes in there that you will really only understand properly if you speak Bengali!
What’s your best piece of writing advice for aspiring authors who might be reading this?
Finish things! I think one of the things that separates “aspiring authors” from “published authors” is the ability to finish writing that novel and then going back to it and revising, editing, rewriting. That’s probably one of the most difficult parts of writing because you have to be very honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and the strengths and weaknesses of what you have written…and then you have to make it better. It’s much easier to abandon it altogether and start another project which has all of the excitement of a new idea behind it. But if you don’t finish writing the book and getting it into its best shape, you don’t make it to querying or signing an agent or getting a book deal. See things through, and finish your books!
Thanks so much! Now, who are some of your favourite queer authors that you think deserve to be championed?
So many! I’m a huge fan of Nina LaCour’s books, and I think everyone should read her work. I also love Kacen Callender’s books, and they write in so many different genres and age categories that I’m sure they’ve written something for everybody’s tastes at this stage. I recently read, and loved, Kelly Quindlen’s Late To The Party, and I think everyone needs to read that book. I can’t wait to see what’s coming from Kelly in the future. Also, You Should See Me In A Crown by Leah Johnson is out soon, and it’s wonderful! She already has a second sapphic novel planned for 2021 and I can’t wait until I can get my hands on that.
Ooh, definitely can’t wait for Leah Johnson’s book! And finally, what have you got planned next? Are you working on something currently or are you letting some ideas simmer for a while?
I have a second novel that should be hitting the shelves in Spring 2021. It’s about two very very different Bengali girls who get entangled in a fake dating scheme.
Thank you so much for being part of #LGBTQMonth, Adiba! We were delighted to have you! Your current WIP sounds DELICIOUS!
The Henna Warswas published last month, May 2020, and I urge you all to go order it—from your local indie bookstore if they have it, or anywhere else!