Hello friends and welcome to Color the Shelves!
Today’s post is by one of my favorite people, Adiba Jaigirdar, who is the debut author of the amazing and equally fluffy and angsty THE HENNA WARS! Adiba might already be familiar to you on the blog, because she’s the delightful human I collaborated with last year to bring you all the #MuslimVoicesRiseUp, a series of guest posts and conversations centering Muslim authors and bloggers. But today, I’m here to bring you a guest post she wrote about writing her own representation into books when little to none of it exists, especially when she first started writing her stories.
THE HENNA WARS is the story of a Bengladeshi teen Henna artist who enters a school competition with her Henna shop just to find her Afro-Brazilian childhood friend, who recently came back into her life, doing the exact same thing, so the book is a rivals/enemies to lovers type f/f romance with a side of good exploration of cultural appropriation. A read I couldn’t get enough of and I HIGHLY recommend picking it up for a dose of sapphic goodness.
Writing my own representation
When I was thirteen, I wrote my first novel. I had recently found out about NaNoWriMo and the only thing I adored more than writing was reading. 50,000 words in 30 days, I thought, I can definitely do that! But…what will I write about?
Before then, I had always written about young girls with names like Tiffany and Crystal. They always had blonde hair and blue eyes and (though I never ever described this) pale white skin. This was despite the fact that I had lived between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia between the ages of zero and ten. Despite the fact that for most of my life, I had never known anyone with white skin or blonde hair or blue eyes. And I don’t think I have ever in my life met anyone named Crystal or Tiffany.
I have always loved books. When I was a kid, I would read anything I could get my hands on. I would steal my older brother’s school books and read them when I ran out of the books my dad bought me—that’s how much I loved books. But from all the books I read, one thing had become increasingly clear to me: people in books had white skin. They often had pretty blonde hair (though sometimes it was brown, and occasionally even red!) and blue or grey or green eyes, the likes of which I had never seen before. People in books never ever looked like me.
I’m not sure what exactly changed when I was thirteen and found myself staring at the daunting task of a novel ahead of me. Maybe it was because I saw the way one of my Arab Muslim friends faced bullying from our white, non-Muslim classmates frequently, and though everyone knew about it nobody ever did anything about it. Maybe it was because I had recently fallen out with one of my brown friends who had decided she didn’t really want to be friends with other POC, when she had her white friends by her side. Or maybe it was because that was the year I first put on my hijab.
But when I asked myself what novel I would write that November, an idea took hold of me: I would write about a brown Muslim girl (not Bangladeshi, because that would be a little too close to my own identity), who discovers she is a lesbian when she falls for the new girl that moves to their school, and across the street from her.
I got to work. During the month of November, I wrote and wrote and it was mostly awful, but by the end of the month I had a fifty thousand word novel saved on my computer. But it wasn’t finished. And even though for many years afterwards I kept telling myself that I would go back and finish writing that book, I never did.
In the end, I think it was because at the time I couldn’t really imagine an ending for these characters that I had grown to love and were in many ways facets of who I was. The only half-formed endings I could imagine were tragic and awful. I didn’t want to write them. My characters didn’t deserve tragedy but for some reason it was all that I could offer them.
Over the years, I have written many things: short stories, plays, novels, poetry. I have written endings for almost all of them. They all featured white or racially ambiguous characters. They never featured queer people or Muslims.
I think this is what happens when you don’t have representation. When you don’t see yourself in what you love (books) or in any form of media. You can’t imagine stories with you in them, even though you are a living and breathing person experiencing life. And for me, I couldn’t imagine a happy ending for characters who shared some part of who I was, so I stopped trying to write about it altogether, learning somewhere that people like me didn’t get do all of the wonderful things people unlike me did in fiction. And we certainly didn’t get happy endings.
When I started writing The Henna Wars, I kept thinking back to the first novel I had written. In many ways they are the same. They both feature a brown Muslim lesbian as the main character. They both take place in Ireland. They both feature an interracial love story.
The main difference? Now, I can give my characters a happy ending.
About the author
Adiba Jaigirdar is a Bangladeshi/Irish writer and teacher. She lives in Dublin, Ireland. She has an MA in Postcolonial Studies from the University of Kent, England and a BA in English and History from UCD, Ireland.
She is a contributor for Bookriot. Previously, she has published short fiction and poetry in various journals and anthologies.
All her work is aided by copious amounts of (kettle-made) tea and a whole lot of Hayley Kiyoko and Janelle Monáe.
About the book
Publication date : May 12th, 2020
Publisher : Page Street
Genre : Young Adult | Contemporary
Page Count: 400
Synopsis : Nishat doesn’t want to lose her family, but she also doesn’t want to hide who she is, and it 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 decide to showcase their talent as henna artists. In a fight to prove who is the best, their lives become more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush, especially since Flávia seems to like her back.
As the competition heats up, Nishat has a decision to make: stay in the closet for her family, or put aside her differences with Flávia and give their relationship a chance.
That’s it until next time.
Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.