Nina is Not OK

Nina is Not OK was written by Shappi Khorsandi and first published in 2016. It is a work of contemporary fiction that focuses on a teenager as she comes to accept the fact that she has a drinking problem. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to have read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

Nina likes to have a drink but then, isn’t that true of all teens? A night out for Nina isn’t fun unless she gets absolutely plastered and her friends are always more than happy to fill her in on the things that she can’t remember. That is, until one night when everything goes wrong and Nina comes around in a taxi with her knickers in her hand. She can’t remember if she slept with the man who she met at the club and is filled with shame whenever she thinks about it.

From there, things start to go from bad to worse. Nina is not having a great time of things at home. Her boyfriend has recently left her, her mother is preoccupied with her new husband and young daughter, and her friends think that Nina’s drinking is a bit of a laugh. As Nina drinks more and more, she begins to do things that she never would sober but still keeps justifying it as all being normal fun.

That is until something terrible happens. A former friend posts a photo of Nina on Facebook, showing her doing something that she can’t even remember. Suddenly, everyone has an opinion about Nina’s behaviour and are more than happy to share it with her. How will Nina ever get her life back on track and does she have the strength to pursue the man who committed an unforgivable crime against her?

Nina is Not OK is an incredibly difficult novel for me to review as its subject matter is both serious and utterly unpleasant. It is, after all, a gritty and realistic story about a London teenager battling a drinking problem. Because of this, I would definitely say that this is a book for older teens only. It contains a lot of graphic scenes of alcohol abuse, rape, sex, slut-shaming and bad language that are certainly not appropriate for young or sensitive readers. You have been warned.

I personally found it hard to get through this book but, in a way, that shows how effective it is. The first half of the story is unrelentingly bleak as Nina’s experiences certainly get a lot worse before they start to get better. She has a frightening number of blackouts and comes to realise that drunk Nina is a danger to her, as she will put herself in situations while drunk that she never would while sober. It all really felt like a car crash waiting to happen and after a while I started to get worried whether or not Nina would ever accept that she had a problem.

Over the second half of the novel, Nina is Not OK was at least a little more forgiving. After one particularly horrible moment, Nina does (grudgingly) accept that she needs help and goes into rehab. This half of the novel is at least a little more affirmative. While the going is realistically difficult for Nina and she does come close to relapsing on a couple of occasions, it provided a stark and honest portrayal of how easy it becomes to justify one’s habits and how recovery is possible if you are prepared to work for it.

However, the plot of the novel did have a couple of issues that gave me pause. My biggest problem with the story was the way in which it presented Nina’s rape. This surprisingly occurs within the first few pages of the novel, although Nina does not find out exactly what happened that night for quite some time. As this was a horrifying way to begin the story, I had thought that it would be more of plot point yet, unfortunately, it does no really impact Nina much until towards the end of the story.

I know I’ve mentioned this in several of my reviews in the past, but I will say again that I believe rape should never be used just to shock the reader. While it eventually is given the focus it needs in this story, I was left a little annoyed that Nina hardly seems to think about it over the first half of the book. She eventually mentions how the rape made her drinking problem worse but I think more really needed to be done to make this obvious in the story. Besides being mildly uncomfortable that Zoe gets together with her possible rapist, Nina does not seem to give what happened a lot of conscious thought.

However, the novel did do a great job of showing the convergence of pressures that a teenage girl faces. There is not one factor that drives Nina to drink. It is a choice that she makes to escape just how stressful her life is, from the death of her alcoholic father to the exploits of her cheating ex-boyfriend. The novel also spends a little time addressing the impact of cyber bullying and the difference in attitudes that people show towards men and women, such as how its deemed okay for men to sleep around but seen as being “slutty” for women. These are all very modern themes and the story did a fantastic job of showing how easy rumours and misinformation can spread in the internet age.

In terms of characterisation, Nina is Not OK was also a bit varied. I personally found that Nina was difficult to like but I will admit that’s part of the point. While Nina constantly tries to justify her actions, it’s always clear to the reader that she’s out of control. She’s rude, disrespectful and more than a little comfortable with using her friends. However, the important thing is that she learns. While the Nina of the climax is still a bit of a jerk, it’s clear that she’s come a long way once she finally starts to take ownership of her problem.

The secondary cast are more interesting still. The book spends a lot of time focusing on the different attitudes that Nina’s friends and family have towards her drinking. It’s interesting to see how they all have different ideas of what is right for her and are keen to push their opinions on her, even if they have no personal experience in the subject. I found myself frequently frustrated by how passive Nina’s mother was but you could completely understand her sense of powerlessness. It also contrasted nicely with the more positive support that Nina receives from characters like her AA sponsor and stepfather, both of whom seem to have a better idea of how to help her.

The differing attitudes did a great job of making the story feel more believable. The most shocking changes in attitude occur when Nina’s rape is revealed to the world. The thing that horrified me the most was just how many people seemed to normalise this. It was amazing just how quickly some of her school mates turned on her, seemingly wanting to blame her for the abuse that she suffered. While I found this hard to grasp at first, I soon realised that it was because it had hit a little close to home. We do live in a world where a man’s word often carries more weight than a woman’s. While we don’t ultimately find out the fate of the rapist, we are kind of left to assume that it’s not as severe as it should be. For me, this was the most terrible and realistic aspect of the novel.

Anyhow, I think that’s all I have to say. Nina is Not OK is a gritty and moving novel that explores a number of dark themes. While it does so very effectively, I’m still not sure that it’s a novel that I’d necessarily recommend. Its tone makes it hard to read and it’s certainly not a book that I’d ever pick up again. However, if you’re a fan of contemporary fiction that tackles very modern issues, you could do far worse.

Nina is Not OK can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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