1. Review by Ella Zare
Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar is one of the most well known young adult sapphic romances. With two perspectives—Hani, a girl whose parents are accepting of her sexuality but her friends are not, and Ishu, who has a solitary school life and parents with high expectations—this novel follows the traditional coming of age dynamic many young adult novels do. It is a representation of how queer identities can intersect with different ethnicities and the impacts of acceptance (or the lack thereof) on teenagers.
One of the most impactful factors in this story is the setting. Hani and Ishu attend an all girls Catholic school in Ireland. They are constantly surrounded by white Irish girls, many of which are uninformed about their Bengali and Muslim cultures and unwilling to learn about them. Watching the girls interact with their peers provided a window into what it would be like to face casual microaggressions every day on both the basis of race and sexuality. Jaigirdar uses this environment to show that despite the incredible progress toward widespread acceptance, racism and homophobia are still very present issues. Issues that greatly affect their victims.
Hani is at the intersection of biphobia and religious ignorance as well as racism. Her parents admit that it took them a while to process her bisexuality, but are accepting and supportive though that. They represent the importance of giving queer people a safe space where they don’t have to worry if their family loves them in spite of their queerness instead of unconditionally. In this way, Hani’s setting is comforting. The school atmosphere, however, forces her to explain her bisexuality and faith constantly. Her friends, Aisling and Dee, are the antithesis to Hani’s understanding parents. They interrogate her about going to Bengali Dawats, demanding to know why they can’t come; and when she comes out to them, they call her confused. Many queer and BIPOC readers can relate to either the experience of discrimination coming from friends or a fear of it. Hani is caught in the crossfire of her own confidence in her identity and her friends’ lack of support. Jaigirdar’s characterization of Hani’s intersectional identity makes other BIPOC (specifically Desi) people feel seen and allows other readers to better understand Hani’s struggles.
Ishu is introduced as Hani’s opposite despite most of their classmates believing they’re the same based on their race. Unlike Hani, Ishu’s family isn’t Muslim, nor do they know that Ishu is queer. They fall more clearly into the stereotype of a strict Asian family that expects their children to be the top of their class and not waste the opportunities at education they’ve been given. But even families that seem to fit this mold are complicated. Jairgirdar takes apart this stereotype and shows how Ishu’s sister, Nik, who had been her academic competitor, can come to provide the support their parents didn’t give them. It was refreshing to see the two sisters coming together when so many novels set family against each other, especially in academic settings. It was a spark of hope for readers to see that family isn’t always antagonistic.
In this primarily character driven novel, Jairgirdar crafted two complex characters that fit some literary expectations and challenged others. She also manages to portray their relationship in a very realistic way for their age group. Often, teenage relationships in the media are meant to last forever. And while some do, more often they don’t. Readers don’t know how Hani and Ishu’s relationship will end (or if it will), but it had a basis in platonic trust and understanding, which made it feel more realistic for teenagers instead of a whirlwind romance with implications on a future together. They weren’t focusing on the future or worrying about how to maintain a relationship if they go to different colleges after secondary school. They tackle each obstacle as they arise and support each other through homophobic micro-agressions and schoolwide scandals. As a reader, this made it easier to root for their romance. It’s easy to get caught up worrying about what problems the relationship may face in the long term if the characters themselves dwell on such things, but Jaigirdar does a good job of showing how teenagers view relationships, less “forever” and more “now.”
Overall, Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating is a wholesome sapphic romance that is willing to discuss the discrimination that queer, BIPOC teenagers sometimes have to face. Jairgirdar used the environment of a privileged white community to show how racism affects young people; she wrote two very different South Asian families to represent the differences within ethnic and queer communities. Her message of togetherness and love despite differences rings true throughout the novel and gives readers something to hope for.
2. Review by Ari McPhail
“I want to ask her again, why. Why is she friends with people who don’t let her be who she is? Who make her feel uncomfortable and embarrassed of who she is?” - Adiba Jaigirdar
‘Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating’ by Adiba Jaigirdar is a contemporary, sapphic romance featuring teen girls of colour. The story follows their struggles with social acceptance, for Hani this means proving her bisexuality to her friends and for Ishu, proving to her family she will be successful. This leads to a fake dating scheme between them that will allow Ishu to gain popularity through Hani’s status as one of the popular girls, which in turn could win Ishu the ‘head girl’ role she wants. On the other side, Ishu can be of use to Hani by posing as her fake girlfriend, ‘proving’ that she is in fact bisexual by dating a girl.
For this reason the plot mainly takes place in a modern, high school setting in Ireland or in the family homes of the two girls. The setting therefore becomes the classic high school stereotype with Hani’s friends disliking Ishu, but gladly Jaigirdar only skims over the bullying trope. The school is predominantly white since it is in Ireland so we get to see the success and unsuccessfulness of Hani and Ishu’s assimilation into white society. Hani makes a much bigger effort to assimilate than Ishu does.
This in part is the defining aspect of their characters which at first separates them. Ishu is stubborn and unwilling to pretend she is something which she is not, taking a no nonsense approach to ignorance that ultimately makes her unpopular. Hani instead tolerates far too much of her friends pressures to fit in, setting her identity as a Bengali and Muslim aside in order to seem more acceptable. It was refreshing to see two sides of this experience, as many novels dealing with poc characters may choose one narrative over the other. We sympathise with Hani, understanding why she tries to fit in but often to the frustration of the readers and Ishu.
Throughout the novel Ishu challenges Hani’s perception of herself, questioning whether she should be ‘acceptable’ at the detriment of her self worth. While alternatively Ishu’s older sister challenges Ishu to consider why she wants to impress her parents so much by claiming to be well liked at school.
This alongside the possibility of their fake dating scheme being found out makes the central conflict. Since it is a romance novel, there is obviously an additional conflict in the form of the characters developing unwanted feelings.
The fake dating was a very wholesome part of the novel that was made even sweeter by the fact that it is a woc lgbt+ romance that isn’t incredibly dark or depressing. Although self acceptance is a common theme in lgbt+ novels it was a nice addition to delve deeper into the themes of being fake or true to who you are and what you want. Especially when it comes to the intersectionality of race, religion and sexuality.
The writing style although simplistic and very classic YA was enjoyable and easy to digest.
The highlights of the book were definitely the dawats which had such a warm and comforting vibe when they were described. I loved hearing about the types of food they ate (which through a google search, they look absolutely mouth watering), and the clothes, music and relationships within their small Bengali-Irish community. I also enjoyed that Hani’s parents were accepting of her lgbt+ identity, and that religion and bisexuality were shown as completely compatible. Too often book characters are made to choose whether to uphold their faith or accept their sexuality. I also loved Ishu’s attitude! She said what she thought and wasn’t ashamed of any judgement from her peers.
I would recommend this book to people who like lgbt+ fiction, discussions about identity and being a woc, and to people who want a cute, wholesome lesbian romance.
3. Review by Smrithi Senthilnathan
“My point, dear sister, is that we all have people who we bend ourselves for the approval of. For you and me, it's Ammu and Abbu. For Hani, it's her friends. We all need to fit in, or need approval. You and Hani aren't that different, if you think about it.”
Humaira “Hani” Khan is a popular girl at her school, easy-going and friendly with everyone. But when she comes out to her friends as bisexual and they tell her that she can’t be bisexual if she’s never been with girls, on a spur of the moment decision she tells her friends that she’s in a relationship with Ishita “Ishu” Dey, the only other Bengali girl in her school. Ishu wants to be Head Girl but the problem is Hani’s popular friends don’t like Ishu and she has very few chance to win by herself. So when Hani approaches her with a fake dating scheme that could be mutually beneficial for both of them, Ishu accepts and thus their fake relationship begins. As it progresses and Ishu interacts more with Hani, she finds that her initial opinion might be biased
and Hani has different sides to her that Ishu’s never seen. But soon Hani and Ishu will both face crossroads where they will have to take important decisions, that may impact their future.
In Hani And Ishu’s Guide To Fake Dating, Adiba Jaigirdar explores the life of immigrants in different countries, through this story following two Bengali girls in Ireland. This was a light-hearted love story that I found adorable. I liked the idea of two bengali girls who share nothing but their culture, bonding over a shared goal with mutual benefits. The writing was crisp and easy to understand. It wasn’t flowery or hard to read and thus made the reading experience better. And I love the Bengali and queer representation - it’s not everyday that you read a Bengali queer book and this one was a fresh perspective. I’m not Bengali but I’m Indian so I could relate to some of the aspects, making this book feel more comfortable for me.
The subplots were structured well and in my opinion added to the book more than the main plot.
I especially loved Nikhita and the relationship she and Ishu share as sisters. Hani and Ishu’s relationship itself was adorable. I love the idea of them having special names for each other that their friends don’t use, and I love their fake dating guide and how they keep adding pictures to that and scrolling through that as a history of them. The romance was on-point and you could clearly see the attraction between them. I also want to mention that the cover for this book is just perfect and captures exactly how I imagined the characters to be - kudos to the cover designer!
There were a few aspects about the book that I didn’t like though. I felt that all the characters were a little underdeveloped. Starting with Hani, I wish we’d been shown more of her past so we could understand why she still wanted to be friends with Aisling and Deirdre despite the fact that they’re rude to her.
Next moving to Ishu, we didn’t exactly see what made her become so antisocial and her lack of hobbies was startling. Ishu’s parents seemed a little stereotypical, with the way they cut their daughter out of the family when she refused to do what they told her to. I wish they’d had a redemption arc, or at least some explanation as to why they prioritized success over happiness. The characters did have realistic goals but the motivations and the backstories behind those seemed to lack depth. And the tropes itself felt a bit rushed and forced.
For example in the grumpy x sunshine trope, it felt like Ishu was portrayed as grumpy just for the sake of the trope and so she would be different from Hani. There wasn’t really a reason that shaped her to become grumpy. As for the fake dating trope, I liked the beginning and the ending of it but the middle felt rushed. I would’ve liked for their realization that they liked each other to be a little slower, and a dramatic confession at the end would’ve tied it up nicely.
But the message conveyed by the book is truly an important one. Exploring important topics such as bisexuality, parental expectations, and coming to terms with your identity, this book is a must-read!
Through Hani, the author shows how we have to let go of toxic people from
our life and always prioritize those who love us for who we are, without changing a single part of it. And through Ishu, the author conveys that while making your parents happy is important, you should always put yourself first and prioritize your goals instead of doing things for the sake of your parents.
These two themes were prominent throughout the book and important in today’s fast-moving and materialistic world. Overall, this was a nice enjoyable read of a queer love story between two Bengali girls, and I’d rate this book 4/5. If you’re looking for a light-hearted love story with something new, this might be the perfect book for you!
Similar books include Ciara Smyth’s The Falling In Love Montage, Becky Albertalli’s Leah On The Offbeat, and Kelly Quindlen’s She Drives Me Crazy. The laughs, the cries, the smiles, the tears - this book gives you all of it and I would definitely recommend you to read it!
4. Review by Parisa
Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating is about two girls who both want a change. In Hani’s case, she wants her friends to accept her for who she is, and Ishu wants her parents to see that she’s more than just an academically smart person. They can both help each other, and decide do to so by pretending to date. But when they both realize that their fake feelings might not be so fake anymore, they have to make some hard choices.
I really enjoyed this fast-paced read. It was dual-perspective and never got boring. It had a lot of great representation with the two main characters being POC and part of the LGBTQ+ community. The author also did a great job at bringing awareness to islamophobia and homophobia in the book, which can be directly related to our world today. I would give this book a 4/5 rating and would recommend it to anyone that enjoys a quick romance read. This is a perfect book for the summer!
5. Review by Gaby Phoenix
Reading a queer love story is always a great experience, but Hani and Ishu’s relationship goes far beyond that. Written by Adiba Jaigirdar, "Hani and Ishu's Guide to Fake Dating" is a fantastic book that manages to talk about a lot of important society topics while giving a fantastic queer relationship.
One of my favorite tropes is “Fake Dating”. This book goes differently with this trope but in a good way; instead of just putting the protagonists into awkward situations, it shows the girls being friends, actually caring for each other and supporting themselves until they discover they like each other.
Another thing that is admirable is the way the girls are represented, even though they have similar backgrounds, they are absolutely different. While Hani has more freedom to choose her destiny and has a better relationship with her parents, Ishu is the opposite by doing what her parents always expected from her. The way the book opens the conversations about the pressure that people put on us, just as Hani felt like she had to be someone else around her friends, Ishu forcing herself to be the best student and best children, even Nik representing the freedom of being herself by choosing a different path.
The best part of the book is the sweet way it explores how every person has its own identity and it has to be accepted, not just by people around but by themselves. Doesn't matter if you have different cultures, different religions, different sexuality, different gender, want a different life than expected… All of us are the same, and we deserve to have a happy life.
6. Review by Lehan C
I know contemporary romance books are frequently introduced with tropes nowadays so… Here they are, listed down in alphabetical order by yours truly: Fake-dating (obviously), and Ostensible ray of sunshine/stoic grump. This book does well with both of these tropes, but it is also so much more than that. It deals with many heavy topics such as racism, Islamophobia, the immigrant experience, homophobia, biphobia, navigating relationships, and the burden of expectations.
Hani is a bisexual Bangladeshi-Bengali and Irish Muslim and Ishu is a lesbian Indian-Bengali and Irish. Having been pushed by their peers to interact during the start of their school year with the sole reason being that they were the only two brown girls in their all-white school, their relationship doesn’t exactly start off on the right foot. However, when Hani’s “friends” invalidate her bisexuality by telling her that she can’t be bisexual because she’s only dated boys and never girls, and Ishu decides she needs to be head girl in order to impress her parents, they decide to band together to fake-date.
There are so many themes explored here worth discussing, but sadly I don’t think I will be able to talk about all of it in a single book review. :(
Moving on, this book captures the injustices and tribulations queer brown girls face being in a majority heterosexual and white-Irish environment. We see how Hani and Ishu respond living in an environment where they are starkly different from everyone else around them, from their ethnicity and religion, to their culture and sexuality. In order to fit in, Hani has turned a blind eye to her childhood friends’ recurring bigotry. It saddened me that she was so used to their discomfiting, dismissing and hurtful attitude, and kept justifying their behaviour, letting herself be hurt many times over. Her way of dealing with everything is to blend in as seamlessly as she can into the backdrop, and even though she appreciates her own culture and religion, and is eager to learn more and share about them, she feels unsafe to do so in an environment which constantly reveals itself to be Islamophobic, and rife with intolerance and injustice.
Meanwhile, Ishu purposely distances herself from the crowd, opting instead to bury herself in her academics, refusing to socialise unless it is a means to an end.
This is also where our beloved sunshine/grump trope comes in! Hani is just really likeable and friendly and a people pleaser, while Ishu is blunt and sometimes cold and snarky. Their interactions were cute and it was evident that they understood each other the best and cared for each other a lot.
Sure, the romance was great and the girls were so sweet to each other! But what really made this book for me were the familial relationships and how heartachingly realistic they were. The exploration of Ishu and Nik, her sister’s relationship, was my personal favourite. So, if you’re a fan of (positive) character development in a queer story such as this, if you like to see characters learn to embrace their emotional vulnerabilities for the people they love, learn to want better and be better for themselves, learn to understand, forgive, accept, and love even more deeply, then this book is for you!
But while there are many great people in the book who are willing to take a step back and repent, there are still a few obstinate characters who won’t change their rigid ways of thinking no matter how much other characters have tried convincing them. It was sad to see but I appreciated it because it showed the reality of what many queer people of colour, as well as what the children of immigrants who have receive way too much pressure to perform well, face. What I appreciated even more was that Hani, even though it was not in her nature to stand up for herself, cut the unwelcoming (and frankly parasitic) presences out of her life, and that Ishu and Nik, her sister, were able to regain their footing and establish an even better support system after their parents had quite likely given up on them.
Now that I’m done talking about the plot, themes, characters, and whatnot, I would like to mention that I had a few very minor issues with the writing. This might be me being picky but I felt that there were a few awkward turns of phrase and unnecessary additions to already complete sentences scattered throughout. However, this was only a small part of my reading experience so do not let this discourage you from reading it!