Title: Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating
Author: Adiba Jaigirdar
Publication date: May 25th 2021
Age-range/genre: Young-Adult; LGBT+, Contemporary, Romance
Trigger warnings: biphobia, bullying, islamophobia
Rating: 5/5 stars
Everyone likes Humaira “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 invalidate her identity, saying 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 absolutely hate—Ishita “Ishu” Dey. Ishu is the complete opposite of Hani. She’s an academic overachiever who hopes that becoming head girl will set her on the right track for college. But Ishita agrees to help Hani, if Hani will help her become more popular so that she stands a chance of being elected head girl.
Despite their mutually beneficial pact, they start developing real feelings for each other. But relationships are complicated, and some people will do anything to stop two Bengali girls from achieving happily ever after.
I’ve been anticipating this book ever since it was announced, being a big fan of Adiba’s debut novel The Henna Wars, and it certainly lived up to my expectations! Hani and Ishu is a sweet coming-of-age novel about culture and sexuality and friendship and family, and I enjoyed every bit of it.
☆ My favourite things about Hani&Ishu ☆
★ heartfelt story
★ super cute and fluffy!
★ brilliant bengali rep
★ covers important topics e.g biphobia, toxic friendships
The plot focuses on Hani and Ishu, two Bengali girls who – while being from similar backgrounds and their parents being friends – were not friends themselves, and form a plan to ‘fake date’ for both their benefits. Hani needed her friends to understand she’s bisexual, as they didn’t believe her since Hani had only dated boys in the past. Ishu needed to be more ‘liked’ in school to become Head Girl, in order to make her parents proud of her. Thus, a plan is born.
As someone who, like the main characters, is Bengali and bi, I was drawn to both characters immediately and related to different aspects of their characters. Hani struggled with standing up to her friends, not only to their biphobia but also when they didn’t take her religious beliefs seriously, and Ishu struggled with fitting in school while being studious because that’s what her parents expected of her. I loved that we got to see varied issues the girls were facing with family and friends, and it was so real in how it was written. The issues they both deal with are so honestly written and really struck a chord in me as I resonated with both of them. Likewise, I liked that the girls found ways to relate to each other, and it was wonderful that in their hard times they managed to find solace in each other.
To most white people just having brown skin is going to mean we’re one and the same.
The girls still butted heads a lot due to their differences. This is another thing I enjoyed, because it showed Bengali girls aren’t a monolith who are the exact same, they have different experiences and backgrounds, which is highlighted in their different POV chapters. Hani is kind-hearted and sweetly naïve while Ishu is ambitious and stubborn, both so distinct from each other and not playing into any stereotypes. Likewise, it was nice seeing the different familial relationships – Hani being incredibly close with her parents, while Ishu feeling the burden of her parents’ expectations – once again displaying how distinct these characters are and how familial relationships can vary.
Jaigirdar is, astoundingly, able to capture a lot of issues faced by young queer poc in a profound and heartfelt way. A lot of the topics covered, like biphobia and family pressure and toxic friendships, were all very real heavy topics that were handled so well, and it was very touching seeing these being explored in a young adult novel. The struggles of coming out and having people not believe you, like the case with Hani, is something many queer people experience; similarly, many young poc struggle with the effort to embrace their culture but also be accepted by their white peers. These experiences are articulated so well throughout the novel and made me feel so seen and understood. I’m sure that a lot of readers will find something or someone in this novel to relate to, whether it be having to deal with toxic friends like Hani and finding your own self-worth, or learning to stand up to your parents’ high expectations like Ishu, or with both of these characters being people of colour trying to fit in with a mostly white school.
As long as Hani and I are side-by-side, everything will be alright.
Of course, I would be remiss not to talk more about the love story between Hani and Ishu. Like most books with fake dating, hijinks ensue once the plan commences, with the characters still trying to figure each other out while putting on a happy couple front with other people. It’s both funny and nerve-wracking since the entire time I’m hoping that the girls aren’t found out, but also so heart-warming reading about how they begin to get closer. This is one of the many reasons I loved getting both of their perspectives, because we got to see how they both fell for each other. I was rooting for them from the very beginning.
As of writing this, I’m waiting for the release day so I can reread this amazing novel and my favourite quotes. One that stuck out to me that I still remember is this – “We all need to fit in, or need to be loved, or need approval. You and Hani aren’t that different, if you think about it.” This book is a beautiful love story that delves into deep topics but all the while shows how important connection and acceptance are. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully express how much I loved this book so much.
Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC for this book in exchange for an honest review.