“So that’s how I spend Sunny Apu’s engagement, trying to construct the perfect coming out moment, and wondering if that even exists. I try to think back to every movie, TV show, and book that I’ve ever seen or read with gay protagonists. Even gay side characters. Each coming out was tragically painful. And they were all white!”
Read in May 2020
This book was the perfect combination of cute and serious. It was one of my most anticipated releases of this year and I literally started it as soon as I received the copy I pre-ordered. I was particularly excited about the representation in this book and I liked that both the author and the main character is gay Bengali Muslim woman living in Ireland and I can only applaud the initiative of such a diverse own voice book. I don’t know much about Bengali’s culture, one of my recent friends is Bengali and lately, she explained some of her traditions to me, however, she is from East India, not Bangladesh and she isn’t Muslim so everything on that territory was brand new to me. I was also glad to read about the Irish school system I knew nothing about, I’m impressed that they have a transition year that is often compulsorily included in their secondary school, as a teacher I can say I wish students could have the same opportunity in France.
“Doctor, teacher, engineer, our Nishat could be anything she wants to be,” Abbu says, clapping me on the back proudly. It is the most he’s said to me in weeks, but there’s a plasticity to his smile, a solemnness to his voice. Nishat can be anything she wants to be, except herself.
As I previously stated, Nishat is a Bangladeshi Muslim Lesbian girl who is studying in a Catholic Girls’ High School in Dublin. The story starts with Nishat’s coming out to her parents. Her decision to come out as a lesbian was the result of the wedding of Sunny Apu, one of her family close friends, she attended this weekend. Seeing the joy of her parents, she decided to tell them about her sexuality because she didn’t want them to imagine that she could ever have the same kind of wedding. Ever since she came out to them, her parents, in denial, are giving her the silence treatment, leaving Nishat deeply hurt and heartbroken. Things at school are not that good either. Nishat doesn’t have many friends, she mostly has been cast aside because Chyna, one of the popular girls, spread racist rumours about her.
At Sunny Apu’s wedding, Nishat encounters Flávia, a beautiful biracial girl –half black-Brazilian, half white-Irish– she used to go to school with. Nishat used to have a crush on her back then, and even though she convinced herself that she was now over it, she can’t seem to actually get that girl out of her mind. Even though Flávia is really friendly to her, Nishat stayed on her guard, especially after realizing that she actually was Chyna’s cousin. A school business contest sparks things off when Flávia, inspired by Sunny Apu’s wedding, decides to team up with her popular cousin to compete against Nishat with the same business idea; Henna tattoos. Begins a ruthless war with a fair amount of low blow, while raising awareness about themes such as racism, bullying, cultural appropriation and homophobia along the way.
“There’s no way Flávia is going to take advantage of my culture because of Chyna’s popularity, because she has white friends who’ll make her henna look chic and adaptable to Western culture.”
I picked this book for the cute enemies-to-lovers sapphic relationship, and yes I got that, but I also got so much more. To be honest, I didn’t expect to have a magnificent sister-sister relationship. Priti was unwaveringly standing by Nishat, strong moral support, never letting her down, and of course, I couldn’t be happier. I always crave siblings’ love in books and this representation was stellar. I adored the talk around religion hypocrisy, how Nishat’s parents fled home and their roots because they didn’t want to do what was expected of them in order to be able to have a love marriage and yet they don’t consider putting aside their beliefs when it’s their daughter’s turn to express her sexuality. The abundant food descriptions were literally the icing on the cake of this book.
Of course, one of the points I was also interested to read Nishat’s parent reaction around her homosexuality and I have to say that the road from denial to rejection to acceptance was gradual and believable. However, I was a tad disappointed in Nishat’s friendships, I didn’t feel connected to the girls, and it really made me feel like they were never truly friends to begin with. I liked that one of them was Korean and wanted to bring her own culture to the table but they were mutually bad friends to each other in my opinion. But I did love Nishat as a character, she was craving to finally be able to be unapologetically herself despite all the pitfalls, and I would say that it was the central part of this book.
“I’m too tired to hear them discuss me. I’m too tired to hear them judge me.”
Have you read or will you read this book?
What did you think about it?