Review: The Henna Wars

The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigird

Genres: Young Adult, Fiction
Maturity Level: 3
View on Goodreads
Rating: ⋆⋆⋆

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.

In trying to decide upon a rating for The Henna Wars, I think I finally understand why people give half-star ratings. Four stars means “I loved this book!”, and while I did enjoy The Henna Wars quite a lot, it didn’t really stand out enough from other YA romances enough for me to say I “loved” it. But three stars (“I liked it”) doesn’t seem adequate to describe quite how much I enjoyed it either. So, three and a half stars, I guess.

If I could give this book a blurb it would probably be “Sweet and heart-felt.” The romance, the friendships, and the family dynamics in this book were all so nice. I hesitate to use the word “cute”, because I didn’t get that vibe from the romance at ALL, though I’ve seen it attributed often. Maybe because people always describe YA romance as cute??? Everyone (almost) is so supportive of Nishat, and while there is definitely conflict with those close to her, it always resolves quickly. In that way the book is very uplifting.

I say almost. The relationship between Nishat and her parents after coming out is … not awesome, so if that’s a trigger for you just be aware. They are very closed minded about LGBT teens at first, but it was really heartwarming to watch them come around and realize this isn’t some kind of disease or something that will just go away. Nishat’s amazing relationship with her sister was a big part of that.

The romance is not really very swoony, but again, was sweet. I was definitely rooting for Nishat and Flávia, they clearly made each other very happy. It’s also an inter-racial relationship where neither character is white, so that’s great to see in YA. Could have used more chemistry, but I’m not complaining either, because I DEFINITELY appreciated that the romance was so PG. Especially since this was Nishat’s first relationship.

Racial themes are obviously front and center in this book, especially cultural appropriation. It is VERY well handled, the writing clear and concise, these themes well-balanced with plot and romance. I kind of wish, though, Jaigird had gone into more depth with this since it was so central to the conflict. In particular I would have liked to see better resolution with Nishat’s friend who was very “racism isn’t a thing anymore”, which kind of gets fixed with a magic wand because of the LGBT plot points. And then I could have used more depth on what makes cultural appropriation and why, mostly because I didn’t understand why Nishat was completely okay with applying henna to white folks, but not okay with white folks applying it to themselves. But I don’t want to come across as criticizing it, because it was truly written very well.

I guess what I’m saying is the book could have been a little longer. An extra twenty-five pages could have given it the extra time to delve into cultural themes, resolve conflict a little better, AND to give the romance some extra umph.

Finally, I loved reading a book set in Ireland. The setting wasn’t a major player necessarily, but I appreciated getting to see a new place and how things work there. More of that please!

I REALLY enjoyed this book, it was 100% what I expected/hoped it would be, and I definitely recommend it to fans of YA romance. However, it wasn’t outstanding or unique enough to be a must-read for those who aren’t frequenters of the genre.

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