The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar (400 pages)

A Stunning Debut about New Love and Vulnerability
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The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar (400 pages)

In The Henna Wars, Two Rival Artists Find They Have a Common Secret

Nishat finally comes out to her parents, but their reaction isn’t what she hoped for. They tell her they love her, but that Muslim girls aren’t gay. Caught between wanting to be herself and fearing a rift with her family, Nishat doesn’t know where to turn. When her old friend Flávia returns, things get even more complicated.

Now that Nishat realizes that she’s attracted to girls, she can’t keep her eyes off Flávia who is not only beautiful but also incredibly charismatic. Nishat’s feelings are further complicated when both girls create their own henna businesses for a school competition, essentially pitting them against each other. With all the hallmarks of school stress and infatuation, Nishat learns that she’s not the only one hiding part of who she is.

A Coming-of-Age Story Hidden in Close Competition

While this story may seem like it’s about teen love and school drama, Jaigirdar also explores many  more serious topics. With the story set at an all-girls Catholic school in Dublin, Nishat’s desire to come out is more complicated than it might be at a public school. As the competition between Nishat and Flávia’s businesses heat up, readers are also asked to face questions dealing with racism and cultural appropriation in a way that isn’t common in novels. That being said, the evolving relationship between Nishat and Flávia gives readers a vehicle with which to navigate these heavier topics.

The Bottom Line: 4/5 Brookie Stars

Jaigirdar’s debut novel, The Henna Wars is compelling and complex while simultaneously heartwarming. Watching these two characters become so caught up in their competition that they begin to sacrifice their morals is hard to watch but also engrossing. While some of the story’s major plot points are a bit easy to see coming, the story is overall an effective one that is worth reading.

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Rachel Gomes is a 30-something high school English teacher who lives with her high school sweetheart-turned-husband and their son. Rachel is a voracious reader who loves to learn and has her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. She’s happiest listening to podcasts and talking to friends about the latest news in nerd culture.

Favourite book: Don’t make me choose between A Song of Ice and Fire and Harry Potter
Favourite brunch spot: The Farmer’s Table


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