Hi everyone! Sorry I disappeared for a while! I’ve gotten really into NCT and WayV again recently and it seriously impacted the amount of reading I’ve got done! Fingers crossed I can get some decent reading done this week! I thought, since I haven’t posted in a while, that I’d do a little review for the second book we’re reading as part of the Sapphic Stories Bookclub this month, and that’s The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar!
Title: The Key to You and Me
Author: Jaye Robin Brown
Genre: Contemporary, LGBT+, Young Adult
Synopsis: Piper Kitts is spending the summer living with her grandmother, training at the barn of a former Olympic horseback rider, and trying to get over her ex-girlfriend. Much to Piper’s dismay, her grandmother is making her face her fear of driving head-on by taking lessons from a girl in town.
Kat Pearson has always suspected that she likes girls but fears her North Carolina town is too small to color outside the lines. But when Piper’s grandmother hires Kat to give her driving lessons, everything changes.
Piper’s not sure if she’s ready to let go of her ex. Kat’s navigating uncharted territory with her new crush. With the summer running out, will they be able to unlock a future together?
Last year I actually preordered this book before it came out, as the synopsis sounded amazing and the ARC reviews that I had read were continuously praising it, but for some reason I never got round to reading it in 2020. So, I was so glad to see that we’d be reading Adiba’s debut novel in January for the book club! The Henna Wars follows Nishat who, after attending her cousin’s wedding, decides to come out as a lesbian to her parents. However, they are less than happy with this announcement, and decide to pretend that she has said nothing of the sort. To add to this, for her business assignment, Nishat decides to create her own henna business, but when one of her childhood friends comes back into her life and appropriates henna for her own business, things start getting even harder for Nishat, especially since she has a crush on her.
I really enjoyed reading this book – despite the many Harry Potter references (seriously, I’m tired!), Adiba’s writing is so engaging and I found myself struggling to put the book down – she seriously knows how to write YA contemporary! The plot, though relatively simple, was written so well that I just needed to know what was going to happen next, and it always kept me guessing. There are, as expected, some rather difficult themes throughout, such as being publicly outed and racism, so I definitely recommend checking out the trigger warnings before diving into this one. The discussion on cultural appropriation was done so well and I think, particularly in the current climate we live in, that this book is a fresh and valuable addition to YA literature.
I really enjoyed reading from Nishat’s point of view – she is extremely strong willed (if at times a bit headstrong), and I loved her relationship with her sister, Priti. I think that Priti may have been my favourite character in the book (side-note: I would love a companion novel following her!) and the sibling relationship was just so sweet and everything that I could’ve wanted! Flávia, the love interest, was, to put it kindly, not my favourite. She did have her moments where I thought she was really sweet but she was also very ignorant and selfish, and so were Nishat’s two best friends – Chaewon and Jess. And that’s where my slight annoyance comes in.
We’ve been chatting about this in the book club Discord, but basically the lack of true accountability and apologies were something that frustrated me. The rest of this paragraph may have some spoilers, so if you’ve not read the book yet, please skip ahead to the next paragraph! Starting off with Nishat’s outing – it is Priti’s best friend, Ali, who publicly outs her to the whole school and it is never mentioned exactly why she did it. But aside from that, she never once apologises to Nishat and there is no accountability whatsoever. Furthermore, Nishat’s best friend, Jess, who is white, is really quite outwardly racist at times and it was never really addressed later in the book. At the end, Jess and Chaewon only briefly apologise to Nishat about their disagreements, and it’s nicely swept under the rug, and it was exactly the same with Flávia. There did not seem to be any real understanding from those characters as to the weight of their actions.
Despite those annoyances, I really enjoyed the ending of the book and the character growth from many of the side characters, including Nishat’s parents. The romance was sweet, though at times (for the reasons stated above) a bit confusing, and I loved that the book was set in Ireland, as so many sapphic YA contemporaries are set in the US. I know that this is such an important book that will be impactful for (we love the Bengali Muslim lesbian and Afro-Brazilian Irish bisexual representation), and that will definitely strike a cord for, so many, and I’m so excited to read Adiba Jaigirdar’s next novel!