Author Adiba Jaigirdar on embracing queer Muslim stories: ‘I’m writing books I wish I had’

Adiba Jaigirdar is changing the publishing industry one YA sapphic romance at a time. (Supplied/Hachette Children's Group)

Award-winning Young Adult author Adiba Jaigirdar tells PinkNews about breaking boundaries in fiction, writing joyful queer stories and her latest novel, The Dos and Donuts of Love.

Not even Jaigirdar anticipated the splash her 2020 debut novel, The Henna Wars, would make in the literary world. After the book hit Time magazine’s 100 Best YA Books of All Time, she went on to land the YA Book Prize in 2022, for her follow-up novel, Hani and Ishu’s Guide To Fake Dating, and became a BookTok sensation.

But critical acclaim isn’t what motivates Jaigirdar to write – bringing LGBTQ+ representation to the publishing world is what drives her.

The 29-year-old Bangladeshi-Irish writer was born in Dhaka before moving to Dublin at the age of 10, and these aspects of her identity form the heart of her work. With four novels under her belt, every single book features vibrant queer characters, most often sapphic women grappling with their identity, friendship and falling in love.

Whether you’re a fan of the enemies-to-lovers trope (The Henna Wars, The Dos and Donuts of Love), fake dating (Hani and Ishu) or doomed historical romances (A Million to One), there’s something for everyone in Jaigirdar’s work, whose “love for storytelling” was nurtured from a young age by an endlessly supportive household.

After studying history and English at University College Dublin, and gaining her master of arts in post-colonial studies at the University of Kent, it was a visit to Bangladesh that eventually sparked the idea for The Henna Wars. It centres around two Irish teen girls, Nishat and Flávia, fighting to become the resident henna artist at school, but soon spirals into a sweet sapphic romance.

You may like to watch

“I was staying in Bangladesh for about three months over the summer with my grandmother and I picked up a henna tube and started practising. I was terrible,” Jaigirdar jokes. “But it led the way to writing [about] a character who was good at doing henna, and that shaped the book.”

Although Jaigirdar didn’t set out with the intention of writing joyous queer books for underrepresented demographics, after finishing The Henna Wars she realised her calling was to “bring joy to queer and South Asian readers, because it’s something, unfortunately, we don’t see a lot of”.

As a gay South Asian Muslim woman, Jaigirdar says it was difficult to find any representation in the media that positively reflected her identity while she was growing up, even in the film empire Bollywood.

“South Asians are lucky because obviously we have the Bollywood movie industry,” she reflects. “There are a lot of Bollywood movies that I loved but, again, the only LGBTQ+ representation we’ve seen has been very, very recent [for example 2019 lesbian film Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga] so even there, it was lacking. 

A still from lesbian Bollywood film Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Lisa Laga.
Lesbian Bollywood film Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Lisa Laga. (Star Studios)

“There’s also very little Muslim representation in Bollywood. I love Bollywood movies, I love the joy of them, I love the family dynamics, that was very important to me growing up and as I was writing these books. But, at the same time, I never really saw any media that had the representation that I needed when I was younger.”

And that’s exactly what she’s hoping to change for the next generation. “I am trying to write books that I wish I had, that would have helped me deal with who I was, while figuring out how I felt about my sexuality and culture.”

Jaigirdar’s books are filled with richly nuanced queer Bangladeshi Muslim characters who intrinsically reflect her cultural values and reject the archetype of the typical oppressed queer Muslim.

“I think one of the biggest ones that we obviously see is that being queer doesn’t work with being Muslim,” she explains, “both from the Muslim community and from people outside it. With all my books, that is something that I’m trying to debunk just because – obviously – there are queer Muslims.

“I’ve tried to tackle different aspects of queer identity, and how my characters are navigating that or how their family and friends are reacting to it. That’s always been very, very important for me.”

And whatever magic she is folding into her pages is clearly working, with young queer Muslims, South Asians and Bangladeshi fans sharing on social media how much this representation has affected them.

“That, to me, was really amazing,” Jaigirdar says.

Her latest novel, The Dos and Donuts of Love, is adding to this proud legacy. Inspired by the viral donut trend that gripped Dublin a few years ago, the novel follows the daughters of two rival donut-shop owners who go head-to-head in a reality baking show, with a wider message to always follow your dreams.

“A lot of the times when we are marginalised, we’re told that we should know our place, we should have realistic expectations of what we can do, but so many of us are breaking those boundaries now.

“If we dream big, we persevere, so many of us can achieve those big dreams. That’s what I hope all of these marginalised teens who read my book take away from it”.

Jaigirdar believes penning these “hyper-specific stories” will pave the way for even more representation in the book world. She points to her own career as proof of progress in the publishing industry, something that perhaps was not possible even in “2014 or 2015”, she adds.

“It can be really difficult when you are an aspiring queer author, because the publishing industry and the world in general can be so tough.

“There is someone out there who is looking for your story, and who needs your story. So, when I’m facing an obstacle I’m thinking about that person, because that person does exist and they’re waiting for you.”

The Dos and Donuts of Love, published by Hachette Children’s Group, is published on 8 June. You can order your copy here.

Please login or register to comment on this story.