Nishat becomes obsessed with winning her school’s business competition, but everything isn’t as smooth sailing as she thought it would be when her old school friend Flávia walks back into her life. Nishat is crushing hard but can’t get distracted. That is until Flávia also decides to do a henna business, and it comes to a heated discussion of cultural appropriation. After her parents disregard her coming out, this competition is everything to Nishat, and she can’t stand to lost anything now.
This one’s a hard one to review because I’m struggling a little to put my thoughts into coherent words. It was a super adorable book to read. I truly wanted to love this. But The Henna War was not the book for me. I was not particularly blown away in my reading experience. My first thoughts when I finished this book was: is that it?
Nishat is our main protagonist, and I wish I could’ve loved her more. Nishat is one of a kind. I really loved her unapologetic attitude and how she is very adamant in being herself, loving herself, regardless of what anyone else says. She is very proud of her culture (hey, fellow Bengali) and in her situation, she is remarkably strong, standing up for herself when no one else will. Her younger sister is adorable, and I really enjoyed the great sibling bond between them. Nishat also has her school friends, who she ends up splitting with mid-novel due to clash of interest over their business ideas. Her parents are traditional, and it was heart-breaking to see them become so distant to their own child over their sexuality. With her conflict with the parents simmering in the background, it doesn’t help that Nishat also gets a crush on Flávia. That crush is almost squashed when Flávia decides to a henna business, and Nishat is devastated at her blatant disregard for her culture. And then on top of that, Flávia’s cousin is Chyna, one of the school’s biggest bullies who has been continuously dropping racist rumours about Nishat for years.
This book introduces a lot of things: Nishat’s decision to come out to her parents, meeting Flávia, discovering Flávia is also new to her school, Flavia using henna as a business idea. Flávia is also dealing with a lot of tension from her cousin’s family. On top of that, all is the central theme of cultural appropriation, which made this a book a great space to discuss such a topic. But I feel like it was all too much and nothing was given the space actually to be discussed. To call it rivals to lovers is a reach, Nishat’s friends were practically sidelined and then reintroduced at the end for the pivotal moment. Nishat has a terrible attitude where she expects everyone else to feel bad for her, but she refuses to extend the same opportunity to everyone else. There was a perfect moment where her sister calls her out on her petty behaviour, but I feel like it was all for nought as everything is brushed away in favour of a happy ever after ending. Nishat’s anger and disappointment in most moments were justified, but she never really seems to learn from any of the bad stuff she does.
Overall, this review sounds weird because I was genuinely enjoying this book for the most part, and I will offer this book to another reader because I can see it’s value. It’s super adorable for the most parts with an exciting cast of characters. The writing style was not to my liking. I just couldn’t get to grip with it, and it definitely affected my enjoyment of the books. As I said, I believe in this story, and I’ll give Adiba Jaigirdar credit for writing a story that I haven’t read anywhere else. But it wasn’t the book for me.
Resources on the Black Lives Matter movement, and what you can do to support basic human rights:
Resources for UK citizens:
– https://blm.crd.co/ (Specifically aimed towards UK & Ireland citizens)
– Black Lives Matter UK (https://blacklivesmatter.com/)
– Show Racism The Red Card (https://www.theredcard.org/)
– Runnymede (https://www.runnymedetrust.org/)
– Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust (https://www.stephenlawrence.org.uk/ab…)