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