Norman Asks | Adiba Jaigirdar Answers

Talia Moodley
February 17, 2022

I’m thrilled to announce that we are kicking off our new 'Norman Asks' feature – a series of author interviews – with a visit from the lovely Adiba Jaigirdar!

Adiba leapt out onto the literary stage in a huge way (metaphorical fireworks were most certainly involved), taking the need for representation into her own hands with her debut novel, The Henna Wars. Instant fans like myself weren’t the only ones to see her talent and Time magazine selected The Henna Wars as one of the ‘100 best YA books of all time’. Of. All. Time.

Norman the Bookworm invited Adiba to join us here on In the Margin to talk about her sophomore novel, Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating. Published last year, it has already accumulated a laundry list of honours, including a place on Kirkus Reviews’ list of the best books of 2021.

In a nutshell, Hani and Ishu takes the fake dating trope and makes it the base ingredient for a nuanced portrayal of two queer Bengali girls learning to navigate the world between moments of fluffy romance. It’s as delightful as Adiba herself!

So, without further delay, onto the interview.

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Five Questions for Adiba Jaigirdar

Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating is an adorable new take on a beloved trope that also manages to slip in some heavier issues found at the intersection of Bengali, Muslim, queer and immigrant experiences. Did you go in with the intention of addressing these issues or did they develop organically within the story?

Adiba: A little bit of both! I went in with some idea of things I wanted to explore. One of these was the theme of these two Bengali girls with vastly different personalities, families and lives. I also wanted to explore biphobia, and how two people can have different experiences of queer sexuality. But other things, like the toxic friendships, and the subplot of racism the characters faced, developed organically as the story progressed.  

The book is rooted unapologetically in Bengali culture as well as Hani’s Islamic faith. Did you ever feel pressured to make it easier to digest for wider audiences by over-explaining or erasing culturally specific elements?

Adiba: I did not feel pressured, no. The way I usually write books is that I write the first draft as if I’m the only person who’s reading it. Afterwards, I do a quick pass for accessibility. Mostly, this is adding in context clues for non-Bengali or Muslim readers. I felt a little differently when I was writing my debut, The Henna Wars. At that stage, I didn’t have a literary agent or a book deal, and I wasn’t sure how unapologetically Bengali or Muslim me or my books were allowed to be. Once I signed with an agent, I made my books a little more unapologetic in revisions. It was the same once I got a book deal. Nobody seemed peeved about it, so that made me feel a lot braver while writing Hani and Ishu.

Hani’s openness about her bisexuality around her parents was refreshingly wholesome. Was it important to you to represent such a healthy dynamic in contrast to the more familiar unspoken rules that Ishu’s family lives by?

Adiba: Definitely! I feel like there’s quite an unfair stereotype that most South Asian/Muslim parents are very strict and are only capable of loving their children conditionally. In reality, South Asian and Muslim parents are just as flawed, diverse and human as any other set of parents from any other ethnic and religious background. I really wanted to showcase that with Hani and Ishu through their different family dynamics.

The ending was somewhat bittersweet, with personal victories grounded in the uglier side of reality. Were you ever tempted to give Hani and Ishu a perfect happy-ever-after instead?

Adiba: I wasn’t, mostly because a perfect happy-ever-after would have felt inauthentic to the story I was ultimately trying to tell. If I had written a different story where the characters faced a completely different set of problems, maybe it would have been possible!

And a fun question to wrap up: If Hani ever manages to convince Ishu to start a band with her, what type of music would they make?

Adiba: They have pretty different music tastes so I’m not sure! Maybe they would play something like pop rock!        

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About the Author

Photo of Adiba sitting on a park bench.

Adiba Jaigirdar is the critically-acclaimed and bestselling author of The Henna Wars and Hani & Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating. A Bangladeshi/Irish writer and teacher, she has an MA in Postcolonial Studies from the University of Kent, England and a BA in English and History from UCD, Ireland. All of her writing is aided by tea, and a healthy dose of Janelle Monáe and Hayley Kiyoko. When not writing, she is probably ranting about the ills of colonialism, playing video games, or expanding her overflowing lipstick collection.

Find Adiba on her: WebsiteTwitterInstagram

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About the Book

Hani and Ishu couldn't be less alike – and they definitely don't like each other. But when fates collide and they pretend to date each other, things start to get messy . . . A heart-warming queer YA love story for fans of Becky Albertalli.
Everyone likes Hani Khan – she's easy going and one of the most popular girls at school. But when she comes out to her friends as bisexual, they don't believe her, claiming she can't be bi if she's only dated guys. Panicked, Hani blurts out that she's in a relationship . . . with a girl her friends can't stand – Ishu Dey.
Ishu is the polar opposite of Hani. An academic overachiever, she hopes that becoming head girl will set her on the right track for university. Her only problem? Becoming head girl is a popularity contest and Ishu is hardly popular. Pretending to date Hani is the only way she'll stand a chance of being elected.
Despite their mutually beneficial pact, they start developing real feelings for each other. But some people will do anything to stop two Bengali girls from achieving happily ever after.

Find it on: GoodreadsAmplifyAbbey's | Booktopia