The Henna Wars

Page St. May 2020. 400p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781624149689.
Gr 7-10–When Nishat, 16, comes out to her Bengali Muslim parents, the silence is overwhelming. Their tacit agreement to give her time to “change her mind” and their refusal to understand her sexuality adds to her general feelings of alienation as one of the only immigrants and people of color in her secondary school in Ireland. By starting a henna business for a school assignment, Nishat is excited to highlight an aspect of her heritage that she thinks her peers will actually understand. But when her crush, Flávia, a Brazilian-Irish artist, opens a competing henna stand, Nishat feels deeply violated and channels her anger into bringing Flávia’s business down. Jaigirdar captures Nishat’s pain as her friends deny the racism and homophobia in their school, and, ignoring Flávia’s moves as cultural appropriation, dismiss her as jealous. The novel’s Dublin setting, with its tight-knit Bengali community, informs all the characters’ interactions, creating a nuanced and specific world. However, it is Nishat’s heartbreaking clarity about who she is and what she experiences that drives this story forward to its deeply satisfying conclusion.
VERDICT Highly recommended for fans of school stories that celebrate intersectional experiences like Erin Entrada Kelly’s Blackbird Fly and Hena Khan’s Amina’s Voice.

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