The Henna Wars follows the main character, Nishat, a Bengali immigrant living in Dublin, and her journey in coming out to her parents as gay. Things get even more complicated in Nishat’s life when she beings to develop feelings for Flávia, her old childhood friend. Things take a turn for worse when Nishat goes against Flávia in a business competition as they both take on creating their own henna business, even though for Flávia it’s a matter of her appropriating Nishat’s culture. As Nishat battles through instances of racism, homophobia, and sabotage, she beings to realize the hidden layers to her crush-now-turned-competitor and realize there’s more to her than she remembered.
The Henna Wars is set in Dublin, Ireland where it follows 15-year-old Nishat, the daughter of two Bengali immigrants, and the events following her coming out. It features her sister, Priti, as well as her childhood-turned-crush Flávia. The plot starts off with Nishat coming out to her parents as gay and soon enriches itself in the business competition being held in her business class, where the most successful business will be branded a winner at the end. The book follows Nishat’s conflicting feelings as she throws herself into the competition with the determination to beat Flávia’s rival henna business. I though the book was amazingly accurate in depicting a South Asian character that wasn’t heaped up with stereotypes. The book at times was tough to read because of the various instances of racism and homophobia Nishat had to face at school and from her parents. However, the book does an amazing job at showcasing complex characters who do make mistakes, who at first can’t find the courage to stand up for themselves, and ultimately showing them amend these mistakes.
The most memorable part I liked about this book was the sisterly relationship Nishat had with her sister, Priti. Priti was a character who stood by her sister through everything, who was the first to support her, and I really liked how their relationship was realistic as sisters. They do fight and say harmful words to each other, but they ultimately make up and realize their mistakes. Another thing is the development of Nishat’s parents who do go through their own process of realizing their faults from the first reaction they gave to their daughter’s coming out. Furthermore, the relationship between Flávia and Nishat was one that I also fell in love with. It starts off with them initially growing apart from the competition, but we can clearly see through the moments her and Nishat share the reasonings behind Flávia’s actions and why her reluctance seems to show at some parts. Overall, the book did a wonderful job at depiction Nishat’s journey and development as a character and the relationships around her.
Reviewed by Tasnia, Libbie Mill Library