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Adiba Jaigidar’s newest novel made me re-think my past

Fake-dating can work as a romantic trope, but one that can be difficult to fully master. I have to admit that I stepped into this with mixed feelings – the fake relationship trope can get tiring quickly, and once I watched To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, I didn’t think it was for me. However, Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar made me re-think about my own past, my history with ‘friends’ at my old high school, and even my relationship with my brother – there was a time when we weren’t rock-solid. 

I started this book expecting a regular meet-cute romance that started with fake dating. I couldn’t be more wrong.

The book is about two Bengali teenagers – a Hindu and a Muslim – living in Ireland. Ishita “Ishu” Dey is an ambitious, antisocial 17-year old who wants to become a doctor and make her parents proud. Humaira “Hani” is a bisexual Muslim who’s filled with sunshine – but struggles to stand up to her white friends when they refuse to understand (and at times accept) her culture – as a Bengali, and as a Muslim. The two of them come up with a plan to ‘fake date’ – for Humaira, it would be a way for her friends to accept her bisexuality. For Ishu, it’s a ticket to becoming the Head Girl, a goal that her parents want her to achieve, and one that her sister couldn’t. 

Of course, things go awry, but not in a stereotypical sense. The two don’t betray each other but realize that their goals and wants are damaging. For Hani, her struggles to fit in with her white Irish friends took precedence, and she chose to manufacture a fake relationship to ‘prove’ her identity. For Ishu, her ambition was driven – in part – by her parents, and Ishu’s drive to satisfy them, to be a better daughter, took over her own comforts and dreams.

Ishu agrees to ‘fake date’ Hani to become more popular (does anyone remember Faking It on MTV???), and win votes to become the Head Girl. Using relationships to gain social points isn’t unheard of – we see it in Payton and Alice’s fake breakup in The Politician, when a breakup was used to help gain sympathy votes for Payton, to win the elections for the Student Body President. 

Ishita’s relationship with her sister reminded me of mine with my older brother. Though the age gap is bigger (they’re 2 to 3 years apart, but my brother is 4 and a half years older than I am), the similarities were striking. My brother was… not the best kid in school. It meant that I tried hard in school to avoid having teachers call my parents, cause they already dealt with that from my brother. We fought a lot, too. Ishita’s distrust of her sister reminded me of my earlier relationship with my brother – the constant quarrels, the anger, and helplessness – I remember being happy when he finally went to college. 

The kicker? Nikhita (Ishita’s older sister) comes back a changed woman from university. My brother did, too. After a year in uni, he was… nicer. It was like seeing a 180-degree change. He went from being my annoying older brother to someone who’s always in my corner. I used to hide everything from him, and now he’s one of the first people I share anything with. Our relationship went from arguing every day to just talking to each other, and even though we do argue sometimes, I know that he’ll always be there if I need it – and that I’ll be there for him. 

Hani’s relationship with her friends, too, struck a chord. Hani’s two best friends – Aisling and Dierdre – have known each other since kindergarten, and stuck together through thick and thin. However, it also meant that their relationship with Hani became different. As a Muslim, Hani doesn’t drink – however, Aisling and Dierdre ask her why she doesn’t, since she doesn’t wear the hijab, and Hani is forced to justify her beliefs to her friends who don’t understand. They don’t understand her devotion to her parents, either – she tries to help her father’s campaign, but her friends aren’t interested. Of course, Ishu notices this – and it’s not the only time Ishu points out Hani’s friends’ flaws (don’t worry, I won’t spoil it for you). 

In her first book, Henna Wars, Adiba Jaigirdar focuses on similar themes of diversity, queerness, and religion, and the struggles of coming out to family and understanding one’s identity within a larger familial structure. Here, Jaigirdar also talks about what it means to have layers of difference – what it means to be Bengali in Ireland and to be bisexual in a heteronormative society. She plays with intersectionality well, and it’s so rewarding to read about multi-dimensional characters, ones who have difficulties that many face because of how their differences are perceived in society.

What I liked about this book was how different Hani and Ishu were – despite their shared cultures and values. I’m not just talking about personalities either, but cultural traits, too. Hani and Ishu speak different Bengali dialects, which means they don’t really understand each other in their mother tongues. It’s a great acknowledgement of how diverse Indian languages – and dialects – are, and that even though someone is from the same region (though Hani is Bangladeshi and Ishu is Indian), customs, cultures, and even languages can be very different.

Jaigirdar also approaches Indian families with that same mindset. Ishu’s family is rigid, traditional, and driven – determined to see their daughters succeed as doctors. Hani’s family, on the other hand, is far more accepting and welcoming, but focuses on family and community – familial and community ties are extremely important, and kept in high regard. The way the author describes Hani is amazing – for her, being a Muslim is a part of her identity. She finds peace in religion, and comfort with the mosque. What’s even better is that she’s so many things more; she’s funny, kind, soft-spoken, and not very confrontational, and she’s also Muslim.

Reading this book felt like a violent tug back into my past despite not being Bengali or Irish. I related deeply to Ishita’s relationship with her sister – a relationship broken by competition, and one that Ishita’s sister tries to heal when she realizes that she was trying to fulfil her parents’ dreams, and not her own. I’ve had my fair share of toxic friendships too, and I was finally able to solidify a true group of friends in my junior year of high school – they’re people that I see myself growing old with. 

Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating was everything that I didn’t expect in a YA romance novel. It’s been a while since a book made me think about my own past, confront my own history with friends and family, and reflect on how far I’ve come to finally be comfortable with who I am, and who I surround myself with. Don’t worry Hani and Ishu (and all the girls who see themselves in you); speaking from personal experience, things get better.

Pre-order Hani and Ishu’s Guide To Fake Dating on The Tempest’s Bookshop supporting local bookstores here or on Amazon here.

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Navigating queerness & tradition in YA fiction with Adiba Jaigirdar, author of “The Henna Wars”

Adiba Jaigirdar is an Irish-Bangladeshi writer, poet, and teacher with an MA in Postcolonial Studies. Her latest book, The Henna Wars, is a poignant story about two Muslim girls falling in love.

Be sure to check out our live Instagram event featuring Adiba and our own editor, Shaima. We’re also doing a giveaway of her book, enter now!


Adiba Jaigirdar’s debut novel The Henna Wars stems from a genuine desire to inspire joy. She was drawn to “write a story that made [her] happy and that was funny to read and fun to write.” She settled on the idea of a romantic comedy with two teen girls with rival henna businesses while “attempting (and failing) to teach [herself] henna”.

Looking to up the stakes of the girls’ rivalry, Adiba imagined what it would be like “if the two girls were also romantically attracted to each other, and grappling with what that might mean.” From there, everything else came together to make this wonderful tale of love, longing, and growing up. 

The Henna Wars revolves around themes of queerness, first love, culture, and family. Adiba interjects stories with themes that are relevant to herself and her life, and exploring them in the medium of storytelling.

Her influences range from The Princess Diaries, Hayley Kiyoko and Janelle Monáe to Bollywood film like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai which she cites as part of her introduction to romance.

She recalls the first time she encountered a person of color writing about people of color in Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses (which we love!). Reading her stories made Adiba realize that it was possible to write about people like herself.

As a queer woman of color, she acknowledges that she has a responsibility to represent her culture, gender, and sexuality in her work. “There’s a lot of pressure, especially because there aren’t a lot of novels out there about Bangladeshi teens, and even fewer about queer Bangladeshi Muslim teens,” Adiba said. “Even though realistically I know that it’s impossible to represent everything as you write a single story, I still felt the pressure of that.” 

To her, storytelling cannot be separated from politics. “Especially as a queer Muslim South Asian, there’s no way that what I write is not going to be political. My very existence is political.” 

As she writes in the contemporary era, I was curious to see what she finds unique to the time that we are currently living in. To her, this time is a time of “rising up against oppression and attempting to enact change.” Yet, she believes this has been the case for a while, as “marginalized people have been fighting for our rights for a long time. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.” 

If this story were set in the future, she would love to say that the “characters like Nishat and Flávia wouldn’t have to worry about their sexuality, race, and culture making it more difficult for them to fit in.” However, she has her doubts. “I’m not particularly hopeful of that happening anytime in the near future.” 

For the writers out there or those interested in what happens behind the scenes, Adiba admits that her writing process is “honestly a little chaotic.” When she first begins writing, she “usually have a very basic idea of the story I want to tell. I figure out the important bits that I need to be able to write the story—the beginning, the end, and bits and pieces in the middle. Then, I begin to write and it’s a process of stringing everything together. It’s a little like putting together a puzzle. Once it’s out there on the page, it’s time for me to begin revisions and shape it into something that really works.”

[Image Description: Book cover of The Henna Wars, two girls with henna reaching their hands out to each other.] Via Twitter
[Image Description: Book cover of The Henna Wars, two girls with henna reaching their hands out to each other.] Via Twitter
The scenes that she enjoyed writing the most were the Bengali wedding scenes at the beginning of the book. “Bangladeshi people are obsessed with weddings, and our weddings are a whole event. So it was nice to explore that aspect of my life through the lens of a character like Nishat, who is surrounded by the familiarity of a Bangladeshi wedding, while also stumbling across her childhood crush.” 

As for how it feels to see her work being shared around the world, Adiba admits that “it still feels a little surreal.” Her dreams of being a writer when she was younger seemed to rely on her writing about straight white characters with whom she shared few experiences. Those were some of the only stories that she saw published or have mainstream success. “It was hard for me to imagine a world where someone like me could be writing stories about people like me.” 

In the future, she hopes that The Henna Wars can allow queer brown girls to see a reflection of themselves in its pages, and that it can open doors for more queer brown people to write and publish more of their own stories. 

For those that have enjoyed the latest book-to-movie adaptations like To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before or Crazy Rich Asians, Adiba shares that she would love to see The Henna Wars adapted for the big screen in the future. Especially if the potential adaptation stays true to the ethnicities of the characters.

As of now, Adiba is revising her second novel, which will be out from Page Street in spring 2021. It’s another YA romantic comedy which follows two girls—one Bangladeshi Bengali and one Indian Bengali—who have to start a fake relationship in order to achieve what they want. 

Have you entered our Instagram giveaway yet? And if you absolutely cannot wait, get The Henna Wars on Amazon or on The Tempest’s own virtual bookshop supporting local bookstores.
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The 20 best new books you can read to escape today’s reality

There’s nothing quite like finding a good book that helps you escape and take a break from the world. Books, both non-fiction and fiction, can teach us more about ourselves, history, people and other cultures.

Right now, as we’re all forced to isolate because of the COVID-19 outbreak, it is a perfect time to catch up on new books. It is also a great time to support authors whose book tours and other related events are being canceled due to the pandemic, which limits how much promotion they can do.

From children’s books to captivating young adult novels to confessional memories to books about overlooked moments in history, there is something on this list for everyone.

1. Lifting as We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box by Evette Dionne

[Image description: the cover of the book Lifting As We Climb by Evette Dionne] via Amazon

Lifting as We Climb by Evette Divonne shares the stories of Black women who fought for the rights of women to vote in the United States. As we approach the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, it is more important than ever to learn about Black women who were and continue to be leaders in the fight for women’s and human rights while facing racism from white women, are far too often glossed over in history books.

Pre-order this book from Amazon for $13.99.

2. Strung Out: One Last Hit and Other Lies That Nearly Killed Me by Erin Khar 

The cover of the book "Strung Out: One Last Hit and Other Lies That Nearly Killed Me
[Image description: The cover of the book “Strung Out: One Last Hit and Other Lies That Nearly Killed Me] via Amazon

When I hear stories about opioid addiction, it’s often about people who died overdoses, rather than narratives of the many people who were able to overcome their addiction. This is what makes Erin Khar’s memoir Strung Out: One Last Hit and Other Lies That Nearly Killed Me such a refreshing and honest read.

In this book, Khar takes the reader through her fifteen-year struggle with opioid addiction, which both helps to smash stigmas surrounding this addiction and can give hope to people living with addiction that life can get better.

Order this book from Amazon for $18.29.

3. Lakewood: A Novel by Megan Giddings

The cover of the book "Lakewood" by Megan Gidding
[Image description: the cover of the book Lakewood by Megan Giddings] via Amazon

This debut novel by Megan Giddings, which has been listed as one of The Million’s Most Anticipated Reads, taps on many issues through this fictional tale about a woman named Lena Johnson, including the struggles that working-class families face and the exploitation of black bodies for science. If you are a fan of Jordan Peele’s movies, this is a perfect book for you.

Order this book from Amazon for $16.99.

4. Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences in the Trump Era by Amy Roost and Alissa Hirshfeld

The cover of the book "Fury: Women's Lived Experiences During the Trump Era by Amy Roost and Alissa Hirshfeld
[Image description: the cover of the book Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences During the Trump Era by Amy Roost and Alissa Hirshfeld] via Regal House Publishing

When Donald Trump was elected president, I was enraged. This man, who for decades has constantly degraded women and claims that it is okay to sexually assault because he is famous, became the leader of the United States.

Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences in the Trump Era, edited by Amy Roost and Alissa Hirshfeld, features essays by a group of diverse women who are as mad as I am. Contributors to this book include Reema Zaman, Katherine Morgan, Mahin Ibrahim, and Susan Shapiro.

Order this book from Amazon for $16.95.

5. If I Had Your Face: A Novel by Frances Cha

The cover of the book "If I Had Your Face" by Frances Cha
[Image description: the cover of the book If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha via Amazon

Set in Seoul, South Korea, If I Had Your Face explores issues like beauty standards in South Korea and sexist, strict societal norms through its four main characters Kyuri, Miho, Ara and Wonna and their friendship with each other.

In praise for the book, author Janice Y. K. Lee wrote that “Cha, an entrancing new voice who guides us into the complexities and contradictions of modern-day Seoul, a dissonant, neon world that is ripped open to bare the same universal and human challenges that face us all.”

Pre-order this book from Amazon for $27.00.

6. Resilience Is Futile: The Life and Death and Life of Julie S. Lalonde by Julie Lalonde

The cover of the book "Resistance is Futile: The Life and Death and Life of Julie S. Lalonde" by Julie S. Lalonde
[Image description: the cover of the book Resistance is Futile: The Life and Death and Life of Julie S. Lalonde by Julie S. Lalonde via btlbooks

When she was 20 years old, women’s rights advocate Julie S. Lalonde fled intimate partner violence. For the next ten years, during which Lalonde became an outspoken activist against gendered violence in Canada, her ex stalked her for ten years.

In her book Resistance is Futile: The Life and Death and Life of Julie S. LalondeLalonde raises awareness about stalking and IPV through sharing her harrowing experience.

Order this book from Amazon for $14.95.

7. Wandering Dixie: Dispatches from the Lost Jewish South by Sue Eisenfeld

The cover of the book "Wandering Dixie" by Sue Eisenfeld
[Image description: the cover of the book Wandering Dixie by Sue Eisenfeld] via Ohio State University Press

In Wandering Dixie, Sue Eisenfeld takes the reader on a journey as she uncovers lost Jewish communities in the South and writes about uncomfortable truths in how white or white-passing Jews assimilated in slave-owning states.

Eisenfeld’s personal stake to this issue is clear, besides being a Jewish woman, her distant cousin Andrew Goodman’s murder during the Freedom Summer of 1964 drove her in part to conduct this research.

Pre-order this book from Amazon for $19.95.

8. Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

The cover of the book "Wow, No Thank You." by Samantha Irby
[Image description: the cover of the book “Wow, No Thank You.” by Samantha Irby] via Amazon

I think we all need a laugh these days, and Wow, No Thank You. by author and comedian Samantha Irby will surely do the trick. This book, which consists of a collection of essays, includes topics like food, marriage, skincare obsessions, and financial problems.

Pre-order this book from Amazon for $14.36.

9. Rust Belt Femme by Raechel Anne Jolie

The cover of the book "Rust Belt Femme" by Raechel Anne Jolie
[Image description: the cover of the book Rust Belt Femme by Raechel Anne Jolie] via Belt Publishing

Rust Belt Femme is a memoir of writer Raechel Anne Jolie on how rural Ohio poverty and alternative 90s culture helped shape her into the queer activist and educator that she is today. In an article at Cleveland Magazine, Jolie said that her memoir stemmed from bigoted rhetoric that she heard about working-class people in the Rust Belt during the 2016 Presidential Election.

Get this book from Amazon for $17.08.

10. The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar

[Image description: the cover of the book The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar] via Amazon

The Henna Wars is the debut Young Adults novel by Bangladeshi and Irish writer Adiba Jaigirdar. In this book, two teenage girls Nishat and Flávia have rival henna businesses, but they do not stay foes for long. Their relationship is made complicated by the fact that Nishat falls for Flávia, but is afraid to say something because she is afraid of disapproval from her family. You can read at an excerpt of The Henna Wars at Book Riot.

Pre-order the book from Amazon for $17.99.

11. Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall

The cover of the book "Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot" by Mikki Kendall]
[Image description: the cover of the book Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall] via Amazon

Feminism that does not take an intersectional approach to problems only helps a select few. In her book Hood Feminism, Mikki Kendall critiques mainstream feminism in the United States. Her essays underline how making sure people’s needs are met, like confronting homelessness and food insecurity, are feminist issues.

Order this book from Amazon for $18.91.

12. All Your Twisted Secrets by Diana Urban

The cover of the book "All Your Twisted Secrets" by Diana Urban
[Image description: the cover of the book “All Your Twisted Secrets” by Diana Urban] via Amazon

In All Your Twisted Secrets, a queen bee, a star athlete, a valedictorian, a stoner, a loner, and a music geek are all invited to what they think is a scholarship dinner. But, then the door shuts, and the attendees are told to pick someone to kill in the next our… or they will all die.

Order this book from Amazon for $16.19.

13. Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong

The cover of the book "Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning" by Cathy Park Hong
[Image description: the cover of the book Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong] via Amazon

Poet and essayist Cathy Park Hong’s memoir Minor Feelings explores how her Korean heritage and struggles to navigate her racialized identity as a child in the Los Angeles area caused her to have “minor feelings.” In a glowing review, Kirkus said the book “deftly explores the explosive emotions surrounding race in ways sure to impact the discourse surrounding Asian identity as well as race and belonging in America.”

Order this book from Amazon for $24.30.

14. Surgery on Sunday by Kat Harrison

The cover of the book "Surgery on Sunday" by Kat Harrison
[Image description: the cover of the book Surgery on Sunday by Kat Harrison] via Warren Publishing

Health procedures can be scary, especially for children, who may not understand what is going to happen to them. Chronic illness advocate Kat Harrison wrote the children’s book Surgery on Sunday, about a girl named Sunday who nervously awaits her upcoming ear surgery at the beginning of the book, and feels a lot better after surgery at the end. If you know a child who is getting surgery soon or deals with health conditions, this is the perfect book for them.

Pre-order the book on Amazon for $17.95.

15. Lurking by Joanne McNeil

The cover of the book "Lurking" by Joanne McNei
[Image description: the cover of the book Lurking by Joanne McNeil] via Amazon

For many of us who are self-isolating or are on lockdown, we spend hours engaging on social media platforms and using the internet in general, which may cause privacy concerns for some. In her book Lurking: How A Person Became A User, cultural critic Joanne McNeil examines concerns that people have about using the internet, including safety, identity, community, and anonymity.

Order this book from Amazon for $15.89.

16. We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry

The cover of the book "We Ride Upon Sticks" by Quan Berry
[Image description: the cover of the book We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry] via Amazon

Set in Danvers, Massachusetts – where the first accusations that led to the Salem Witch trials began – this book by acclaimed writer Quan Barry is no ordinary field hockey story. This young adult novel is magical because of the friendships between the characters, and the witchcraft that these characters use to do what they can to make it to the field hockey state finals.

Order this book from Amazon for $18.39.

17. Conditional Citizens by Laila Lalami

the cover of the book "Conditional Citizens" by Laila Lalami
[Image description: the cover of the book Conditional Citizens by Laila Lalami] via Penguin Random House

In Conditional Citizens, Laila Lalami intertwines both her journey to becoming a U.S. citizen as an immigrant from Morocco and the role that white supremacy has on determining one’s “American-ess,” whether someone is from the United States or an immigrant like Lalami.

Pre-order this book from Amazon for $24.65.

18. Nobody Will Tell You This But Me: A true (as told to me) story by Bess Kalb

The cover of the book "Nobody Will Tell You This But Me: A true (as told to me) story" by Bess Kalb
[Image description: the cover of the book “Nobody Will Tell You This But Me: A true (as told to me) story” by Bess Kalb] via Amazon

Nobody Will Tell You This But Me: A true (as told to me) story by Bess Kalb is a tribute to Kalb’s beloved late Jewish grandmother. Kalb weaves together both memories from her life with her grandmother, shares details about her Jewish family’s history, and dialogue of what her grandmother is telling her from the dead. It’s a story of love and resilience. 

Order this book from Amazon for $23.36.

19. The Herd: A Novel by Andrea Bartz

[Image description: the cover of the book “The Herd: A Novel” by Andrea Bartz] via Amazon

If you live in a major city, you may see that coworking spaces are on the rise, and they definitely come with their own drama (for example: see this article on The Wing). In the novel, The Herd, the head of an elite coworking space, Eleanor goes missing, and her friends go on a mission to find the truth. This thriller also offers commentary on female friendships and social media.

Order this book from Amazon for $13.99.

20. Strong Like Her by Haley Shapley

The cover of the book Strong Like Her by Haley Shaple
[Image description: the cover of the book Strong Like Her by Haley Shapley] via Simon & Schuster
From shining a light on the first female Olympian to current female powerhouses, Haley Shapley’s upcoming book dives into and celebrates the physical power of women. Shapley’s book puts stereotypes that women are “weak” to shame and features photographs of athletes by Sophy Holland.

Pre-order this book from Amazon for $29.99.

There are plenty of other ways to support these authors right now, if you have a library that puts books online, or has started to in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, you can contact your library to request them to add some of these awesome reads.

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