Book Club Books Pop Culture

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.
Culture Life

Why I am constantly drawn to lavender

I find that my most blissful moments remind me of the strong, calming scent of lavender. For one reason or another, I relate it to a lot of the more meaningful aspects of my life. To me, lavender is like a feeling; like the wind brushing up against your skin.

While I think that lavender is largely optimistic, I also find a certain sorrow that is comfortable, even humble, in its presence. I’ve come to appreciate it in every shape and form – the color, the flower, the scent. Its hard to place; not sweet or bitter, but rather musty. 

Lavender manages to incorporate itself into my life seemingly on a whim and in the most fleeting of moments. We have a peculiar relationship. I am stomach-knottingly anxious in the presence of many, especially when I first meet them. But, with some, I sense lavender, and I know that something great is about to happen. It is more of a feeling than anything else. Just talking to some people can be rejuvenating, and perhaps it is because our meeting reminds me of that warm, soft smell of a mid-spring day when the sun is bright and pure, and the entire day lies ahead.

Nowadays, when I am feeling an emotion that is simply beyond words, I say that I am overflowing with lavender. 

According to etymology, the English word “lavender” is derived from the Latin “lavare,” which translates to “to wash.” It is a necessary refinement – a cleanse. I am purified with every utterance of the word. 

Perhaps it’s not just me. In literature, lavender has been used significantly as a token of love. To me, it’s more like a notion of love at first sight. Shakespeare offers a bouquet of “hot lavender” in The Winter’s Tale. Cleopatra also roots lavender with love, as she is said to have used its sultry perfume to seduce both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Christians are also known to have used it as a repellent of evil. The plant is said to have been taken from the Garden of Eden and is sometimes found hanging in a cross shape above the doors of some Christian households as a means of protection. There are so many songs with the title lavender, my favorite being by The Beach Boys, and there have also been many poems written about it, too. Take, for example, this quote by an anonymous writer, “as rosemary is to the spirit, lavender is to the soul.” 

Lavender is swift, like a movement, carrying me in and out of perfectly imperfect moments. The vision of it is rather uplifting as well. It stands delicately tall among the rest, but it is not intimidating either. I adore its confrontation. In fact, I look forward to it. 

Family Life

I’m in love with hoarding, and I’m never going to stop

We went to Le Cafe Crepe for our eighth-grade French club field trip – it was one of the best field trips I took. Some of my best friends went on that trip and it was just so much fun. On that trip, our sponsor, Madame Mattioli, gave us each a Godiva chocolate. It wasn’t special chocolate or anything. But, years later, I still have that very same wrapper in a mason jar. I’ve also got movie stubs, paper wristbands, and other random bits and pieces that my mom insists is all trash. Hoarding became a legit issue since that trip. 

My whole room looks like this – old stuffed animals from 5th grade and crafts that my cousins created for me smear my walls. A design that my little cousin made still sits on the wall next to the polaroids and concert flyers. Old images and painted decorations and bracelets and keychains and lanyards from years ago dot the corkboard in front of my desk. In the corner, I even have a certificate from our 5th grade Valentine’s Day box contest, which I can proudly say that I won. 

The rock that my cousins painted for me via Srilekha Cherukuvada
The rock that my cousins painted for me via Srilekha Cherukuvada

My room is a static memory of my life, filled with all the happy shades of color that I could ever need.

I didn’t realize I was hoarding until last year I think. Up until then, I deemed every object as crucial to my memory. One day my mom came into my room and saw a huge mess. It was exam season, so I really didn’t have time to clean, and it was worse than usual. That was really when I started questioning myself. What do these objects even mean? Do I even remember everything?

And then, I took out my mason jar with all of the movie stubs and little pieces of paper and sifted through them. And I was right. I didn’t remember the sentiment or lessons behind anything. All that was left were the raw memories associated with them. For years, I told myself that keeping a movie stub from 2017 or those Mardi Gras beads from 2016 was essential. I told myself that it would help me remember something I learned from my experiences. Now I look at these things and all I see is a reminder of what happened–a memory, but there is not even a glimmer of what I wanted them to mean.

I wanted them to mean something. I wanted them to teach me a lesson, or to be something to lift me up. But, a wristband to JumpStreet is just a piece of paper, and a painted rock is just a rock. Yet, even if nothing else, these things remind me of a memory. And, that is more meaningful to me than anything, An object doesn’t need to be assigned an initial lesson when the memory attached to it is already more significant.

Image of items that I've hoarded via Srilekha Cherukuvada
Image of items that I’ve hoarded via Srilekha Cherukuvada

Although those initial lessons are important, my memories are equally as important.

I’ve also been lying to myself for years. Those lessons I made up each time I kept an object were just covering up my real fears about leaving them behind. Self-improvement doesn’t depend on a couple of objects that I associate with a specific lesson, and I know that. That’s just something I’ve been telling myself.

I’m terrified of throwing them out. I could never bring myself to let go of the past, much less the objects that represent my past. I’m scared of change and I’m scared of losing myself in the process of that change. I think that’s why I’ve invested myself in hoarding so much. My whole body just trembles at the thought of giving away my stuffed animal that one of my best friends gave to me, or even that wristband from JumpStreet two years ago. I know it’s silly, but it just means too much to me.

Image of items that I've hoarded via Srilekha Cherukuvada
Image of items that I’ve hoarded via Srilekha Cherukuvada

Now, when my mom complains about all the“trash” in my room, I fight back. I guess I’m the only sappy, sentimental one in my family. But that should mean something. Memories should mean something. And having objects to represent those memories is completely reasonable. My hoarding reminds me of my past, and my past is a part of my identity. 

So, is it really all worth it when I’m 50 years old and drowning in candy wrappers from when I was a kid? 

Hell yes.


Are we hard-wired to be racist?

We’ve all heard the “I don’t see color” remark, and we’ve likely heard arguments against it.

The big problem with the statement is that we do see color, and forgetting that is just hiding the issue, instead of actively working against it. There’s also a scientific component to this.

To begin, let’s think about how we define race. Anthropologists and sociologists have agreed on the fact that race is a social construct. This is because there is so much variation within groups and groups mix together so often that there really there are no clear lines differentiating one person as one race and another person as another. Are there 5 races or 500? The process becomes too messy and doesn’t make any sense.

Then why do we have racial categories?

This is where the science comes in.

The concept of race is essentially emotional, no logic involved. The only reason we have these categories is because we perceive them. We develop emotional responses to people unlike us. It becomes a problem when we let that emotion dictate our behavior.

The debate is where that emotion and the brain structures that provoke that emotion come from.

We know that we have specific brain structures associated with fear, disgust, and, as some researchers propose, prejudice. Such structures include the amygdala, insula, orbitofrontal cortex, and ventromedial prefrontal cortex.

That’s no excuse to be racist though. It is also proposed that we have structures involved in suppressing these emotional impulses, like the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the inferior frontal gyrus.

The ACC has been shown to be activated when there is conflict between impulse and deliberate response. In a specific study, it was shown that people who are motivated in controlling their prejudices tend to have greater ACC activity than those who care less about controlling and display more blatant racism.

While it is very likely that there are potential confounding factors in these studies, like the fact that this might be about group identity rather than race, let’s assume their claims are legitimate.

Evolution versus Culture

The evolutionary reasoning is that these structures were advantageous back when people were organized by tribes. It made sense for you to have a fear response towards someone that looked different because they were a legitimate threat. Now, we are just left with the brains of our ancestors in a world that’s not like theirs.

The other side explains it more from a cultural level. Environment can impact biology just as much as biology can impact environment. What if it is just that racist thoughts/behavior molds the brain a specific way and has been happening for so long that it shows up in our minds today?

Or even if this isn’t happening on a societal level, maybe it’s happening in individual development.

What these studies assume is that we live in a world where equality is the moral norm and every person and system strives to reach that norm. In reality, discrimination and bias are encouraged in several spheres of the world. “Normal” might mean a more subtle form of racism.

Evolution and Culture

With that in mind, it might not be that we are born with a fear response ingrained inside us, but that, depending where we develop, our minds actually shape to allow for this lack of resistance against emotional impulse. Like how outgroup-fear is reinforced in tribal groups, today it may be reinforced in a way like telling a racist joke in a classroom and getting laughs. You lower your inhibition and soon enough your brain is impacted by that.

The effects on the brain may just be a reflection of your beliefs and experiences rather than your brain molding your beliefs.

Biology, explained by evolution or not, and culture can also combine. If you have a brain less capable of emotional inhibition, a racist culture may have a bigger impact on your behavior. But whatever the reasoning is, we still all have structures involved in suppressing emotional impulses. Just like someone with an aggression-prone brain does not have an excuse to punch people because it’s “her nature,” someone who has a harder time with emotional inhibition does not have an excuse to be racist.

So … maybe we do have some evolutionary reason to categorize and discriminate other people and maybe we don’t. But what we definitely know is that racism and prejudice is ingrained in our societies. So much so that it actually can shape the way our brains work. Fortunately for us, we’ve actually evolved some pretty great rationalizing brain mechanisms that help us figure out racism is wrong and unfounded. It is our job to evaluate where certain prejudices are coming from culturally and dismantle it within ourselves and our society. After all, we are hard-wired to be rational.

Science Now + Beyond

Here’s what your poop says about you

Suppress that giggle, this is serious shit.

Poop is useful as more than just the fodder for some great jokes; it can be an indicator of changes in our gastrointestinal health.


With poop, pretty much anything is possible. By that, I mean — every color of the rainbow has been observed, though some are “artificially” induced by diet.

Let’s take a look at the beautiful spectrum of the poop rainbow!


1. Brown


Even though many of the foods you eat are probably not brown, it’s usually normal, as you may have guessed from living for years.

This color is produced by a process in our digestive system involving our liver, gallbladder, and intestines. Red blood cells get metabolized in the liver and broken down into a molecule called bilirubin, which is excreted in bile. Bile, which is yellow, travels from your liver to your gallbladder, and the gallbladder releases it into your small intestine to aid in digestion. This bile/digesting food mixture churns together with bacteria in the intestines and transforms the bilirubin into another product, stercobilin, which turns the feces brown.

2. Red


This can mean a lot of things, from the benign to the worrisome.

If there is blood coming out separately from the feces, and it seems like the feces themselves are brown, this can mean a bleed really close to the surface — hemorrhoids, or an anal fissure. Another clue is if wiping with toilet paper produces blood with no stool by itself. If the entire stool is red or maroon, this can mean a bleed further up in your colon. In young people, it can be a sign of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis) while in older people it may be cancer, diverticular disease, and more. Either way, the best thing to do is consult your doctor — and let them know of any other non-poop symptoms you may be having.

HOWEVER, before you freak out — think about your diet, too. Beets, cranberries, and red food coloring are common culprits — as well as the infamous Flaming Hot Cheetos.

3. Orange


You’re probably eating a lot of carrots, sweet potatoes, or pumpkins, my dear.

4. Yellow


If this poop also felt greasy coming out or was particularly foul-smelling, take note. When fat does not get digested and absorbed into your body, it feels like fat coming out.

This can happen from a parasitic infection called giardiasis where protozoa invade your small intestinal cells and block nutrients from being absorbed. If you’ve gone to the mountains or woods lately and drank untreated water, or traveled abroad where you may have consumed contaminated water, you may have been at risk.

Other non-infectious absorption issues may be a cause, such as Celiac disease. See your doctor!

5. Green


Ever wondered why diarrhea is often green?

When food moves too quickly through your digestive tract (like when you have an infection causing diarrhea), your body does not have time to break down your food and do that whole bilirubin-bile-intestinal bacteria-stercobilin process too well. If it doesn’t have time to convert into stercobilin, it won’t turn brown.

Or, you may have taken that kale/spinach juice cleanse too far.

6. Blue


Either you’re an alien, you ate some artificially blue foods or grape soda, or you have porphyria. The latter is rare, but see your doctor in the absence of dietary causes and in the presence of bothersome symptoms.

7. Purple


There’s a tiny chance of porphyria again, but it’s probably just beets.

8. Black


Medically, there is a concern for a bleed within the beginning part of the gastrointestinal system (nose/mouth to the small intestine), and when it is, this stool is called melena. The blood turns black, instead of staying red, due to digestive chemicals and intestinal bacteria breaking it down along that long path.

Ulcers are the most common cause in which case medical help should be consulted, but first, rule out foods like licorice, blood sausage/blood soups, and iron supplements. Over the counter medications like Pepto Bismol and Maalox can contribute, and make sure to look up side effects of new medications you’ve started — quite a few can cause black stools.

9. White/Pale


Without bile, which contains bilirubin, the poop cannot turn brown — the bilirubin cannot be converted to the darker stercobilin.

Therefore, if the bile duct is obstructed, such as (most commonly) from gallstones blocking those ducts, the bile cannot come down into the intestine to darken the stool. Bile duct obstruction can be one cause of pale stools, but also take a look at your medications.

Happy bathroom days, everyone!

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Beauty Lookbook

19 ways to seriously step up your summer nail game

With the end of school comes the start of some much-needed “me” time. Why not start off treating yourself to a summer manicure? The key to a gorgeous summer look is embracing the spirit of fun, sunshine, and freedom and getting out of your manicure rut with bright colors and chic designs.

Here are 19 ways to help you step up your nail game this summer.