Happy Pride Month everyone 🙂
Welcome to the monthly Read the Rainbow discussion spotlight!
Read the Rainbow is a spotlight for queer books, authors and readers. Every month, I’ll be hosting an interview or discussion centered around a queer book. The interviews will be conducted with authors and the discussions will take place with #ownvoice readers for each book. Every month, I’ll be announcing the book of the month for Read the Rainbow so that everyone can read the book before the spotlight, although it is not a necessity.
This month we have two BOTMs which means double discussion posts! Today we’ll be discussing The Henna Wars by Adiba Jagirdar featuring lesbian and bisexual main characters and a f/f relationship.
When Dimple Met Rishi meets Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda in this rom com about two teen girls with rival henna businesses.
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.
I’m so excited to have Thya and Jamel on the blog today to discuss The Henna Wars 🙂
As per usual the discussion remains spoiler-free.
Thya (she/her) loves reading and journalling and is blogging at Wilted Pages. She reviews all genres and books of all ages but tends to stick to YA. She’s bisexual. We’re all going to have some fun discussing We Used To Be Friends.
1. Just from reading the blurb and looking at the cover what were your thoughts or expectations from this book? Did your expectations hold?
THYA: At first glance I thought it would be a really light, fluffy, cute book to read (maybe over a nice cup of tea hehe). That notion did hold pretty well but I think the book did a good job of discussing serious topics too, it just wasn’t something I expected.
JAMEL: I was expecting a rom-com (well, obviously it was a rom-com) with the light, cute, enemies-to-lovers vibe, but also some really in-depth discussions on cultural appropriation (since that’s what Flávia does to Nishat) and *huge* discussions on religiosity and it’s very very apparent and deep linkage to homophobia. Not sure if I expected it to appear very strongly and for it to be, like, very intense homophobia, but definitely maybe some just discussion of it and things that, well, if you’re not queer, you just might not realize are actually very bad. Like, essentially micro-aggressions but for lesbians.
2. What did you think of the characters and who did you relate to most?
THYA: I loved all the characters that were close to Nishat, except Flavia’s awful cousin, Chyna. I liked Priti the best though, because she’s a great sister and super mature for her age – I mean, I wish my younger brother had half her brain. I don’t think I related to any character super closely though!
JAMEL: I loved the characters. Chyna was a b, but what else do you expect from the antagonist? Priti was definitely my favorite. She’s the absolute best friend and I would kill to have her as a sister.
3. Without giving any spoilers, tell us about your favourite parts or scenes in the book.
THYA: The opening wedding scene of Nishat’s cousin for sure! That’s where Nishat and Flavia reconnect and obviously I loved every cultural reference, especially Nishat’s snide comments about some of her relatives at the wedding – can’t go to a brown wedding and make zero insults, am I right? Also, her internal monologue as she and Flavia are so cute.
JAMEL: The wedding scene was definitely one of my favorites, for a lot of the same reasons as Thya. I loved all of the, just, mini gay moments throughout. So many times through that scene and the whole book, I was like “ugh, quintessential gay experience here.” Another scene that I really liked was the hairbrushing scene, because of how intimate it was and it showing how much the characters had changed and how they were learning and trying to learn. I really love family scenes. And especially the scene where Flavia and her mom were talking and the Portugese was just casually spoken without so much as a second thought. I loved seeing it just there as a thing without anyone asking or needing it to be translated for them.
4. The Henna Wars explored a lot of themes like racism, cultural appropriation, friendship, family and acceptance. Which one did you love reading about the most?
THYA: I loved reading about the impacts of cultural appropriation and racism, but in the end, this story was about relationships – relationships Nishat has with everyone, from family and friends to Flavia. Nishat’s relationship with her sister Priti was one of my favorites to see. They argue sometimes but no matter what, they always forgave each other in the end.
JAMEL: I’m a huge family and friendship lover in stories. That’s where a lot of the heart of everything kinda lies for me. It was definitely a very enjoyable part, seeing Nishat and Priti argue and reconcile and always have each other’s back despite the missteps that they both took. All the racism and cultural appropriation talk was great to read, especially because it was Flavia who did the appropriating and she was able to apologize, come to her senses, and redeem herself for it.
5. Did you relate to either Nishat or Flavia’s journey towards accepting and getting comfortable in their queer identities?
THYA: Honestly, not really! The book literally opened with Nishat coming out to her parents and the amount of GUTS that would take, oh my god. I didn’t really relate to the whole getting-outed to the school and not being accepted either because I’ve never fully been in the closet to anyone except to my parents. I think the most relatable part of either part of their journey is the fact they fell for each other almost instantly (happens to me all the time!).
JAMEL: I kinda related to Nishat’s journey in the panic she had about telling her parents that she was a lesbian. When I came out to my mom (after I realized what I was), I was so worried that something bad was gonna happen that I had texted one of my friends who said that I could live with her if I ever got kicked out to say “hey, wish me luck… also, keep that couch on standby, please. Love you.” and practiced what I was going to say for an entire half hour walk back home. It didn’t go in the same direction as Nishat’s because my mom accepted it pretty easily, but it was definitely something I knew intimately.
6. Would you want to read another book about a side character in this book? Why or why not?
THYA: Maybe! I would like to see this story from Flavia’s perspective, especially her whole journey of acceptance. Since The Henna Wars was first person, we only really saw Nishat’s perspective so there wasn’t much insight into Flavia’s life and I would love to read more about it.
JAMEL: I would love to read more about Flavia and Chaewon. Flavia, seeing her family and how she’s treated and her realizations about her life would work extremely well and parallel everything going on in THW. Chaewon, we didn’t get too much about, but I get the feeling that everything that Nishat did rubbed off on her in such a major way and she’d (if there was another book) would definitely become more outspoken about just the racism and everything that she’s seen, especially because she’s agreed with Nishat quite a few times and just kept quiet.
7. Describe the book’s vibe in three words.
THYA: Touching, fluffy, does coming-of-age count as one word? LOL
JAMEL: Adorable, GAAAAAAAAAAY, Emotional
8. Lastly, if you were to write a short letter to either this book or the author, what would you write?
THYA: AAHHHH ADIBA YOU KILLED ME WITH THIS BOOK [insert crying emojis].
JAMEL: THE GAYS SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH AND THIS BOOK WILL BE THEIR CENTERPIECE. (Loved all the characters. Thank you!)
Thank you Thya and Jamel for such a lovely discussion 🙂 I hope you all enjoyed the Read the Rainbow discussion for this month. June being pride month, we have another book discussion lined up for the 26th June for Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender so stay tuned for that!
Have you read The Henna Wars? If yes, what are your thoughts on it? If not, is it on your TBR?
Which are some of your favourite books featuring queer poc characters?
What are some books that you are excited to read for Pride month?