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.
If you'd told teen Adiba that one day she'd publish this book about a queer Muslim, Bangladeshi girl falling in love with another girl?? Yeah, she would not have believed you!
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.”
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 likeTo 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Set in Seoul, South Korea, If I Had Your Faceexplores 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.”
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 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.
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.
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.
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 Warsat Book Riot.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.