‘What is doing the thing that wrecks your life, over and over again, if it’s not a slow suicide?’

2017 is turning out to be a year of many pleasant surprises so far…once more I have read a book outside my normal preferences and have been greatly rewarded in return!

Nina is not OK should be one of the biggest book of the year. It should be a talking point amongst teenagers, college students and parents. However, I am very afraid that this book will slip under the radar and its message will be lost. This unfortunately is mainly because the audience that it is aimed at won’t want to hear what it has to say.

Nina is a typical teenager in that she drinks too much and has regrets the next day. She juggles college lectures, boy trouble and all the fun that comes with being a teenage girl admirably. But if you look closer you will see that Nina had a problem, a serious problem. She doesn’t know when the fun stops and the drink takes over. This leads her into some very unpleasant scenarios and so begins a series of unfortunate events that can only have one result.

‘I don’t tell Beth how desperately I want to hollow out my insides and refill them with something fresh. When you’re this hungover and can’t remember chunks of your evening, it means you’ve had a good time, right?’

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The book skilfully deals with Nina’s difficult past, present and future. Early on in the book, Nina is taken advantage of and this night comes back to haunt her. We learn that her father was a raving alcoholic and his legacy continues to hang over her family. The more we read, the less we know about what exactly Nina is capable of and how low she is willing to go in search of another drink. Alcoholism is portrayed in this novel in a warts and all manner. There is no Disneyland happy ending here but there is still always a chance of redemption.

The author, Shappi Khorsandi, is a stand up comedian by trade and does bring some of her trademark humour to the story. But overall, the narrative is brutally honest and uncomfortable to read. Nina’s drink problem leads her into several compromising positions with men of all ages; some of these are men are nice but many are predators of the worst kind.

‘I’m jealous because I don’t know how to be the girl that guys want to love and protect. What is wrong with me?’

In many ways this story is a tragic tale of a young life wasted. But in a era where sex sells, our every move is documented and drink and drugs are marketed as the only options for having a good time, this is a very necessary story that needs to be told.

The more I read and became immersed in Nina’s story, the more I admired Khorsandi’s writing style. In places, her writing put me in mind of Eimear McBride’s novels A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing and The Lesser Bohemians. The only difference being that Khorsandi’s tone and style aims more towards a younger audience.

I really admired how the disjointed and shameful prose that depicts Nina’s drunken adventures was bleak and harsh to read. I sometimes felt as disorientated as the character was while she drunk. Khorsandi’s use of dialogue was also very accurate and believable with the exchanges between mother and daughter being the most powerful to read.

For me though, this novel seriously questions the relationship that we have with alcohol in our culture today. The facts are simple. The consumption of alcohol results in bad decision making, illness, mood swings, lack of energy, bad body hygiene and reduced mental capacity to say the least. Yes it helps us to relax, but at what price? There are several ways that one can relax without simultaneously causing harm.

A good sign of an impressive read is that moment near the end whereby the reader feels like that they have gone on an emotional and life-changing journey with the main character. I felt this way after I read Nina is not OK and it made me think about my own attitudes towards alcohol. This may be a book that could slip under the radar, but the excellent writing and strong message are vital if we are to move on as a society. Read it, tell your friends and help spread the word.

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Would I recommend this book to a friend?

Yes but this is a very tough read and not for the faint of heart. As Nina spirals out of control her behaviour becomes more and more degrading to both herself and those around her. Hers is a journey that is not easy to read about but an important one to say the least. Read this book and you will probably think twice before drinking your next glass of wine.

Afterthoughts

  • On an interesting sidenote, I am currently reading Anthony Robbins’ Awaken The Giant Within and he recounts an interesting story about how his mother encouraged him to be a teetotal. When he was an upstart teenager she relented and bought him some cans of beer on the condition that he drank them at the kitchen table in front of her. After two the novelty wore off but she forces him to drink all six. He only made it to four before getting sick everywhere and then had to clean up after himself. He never drank again after that!
  • Louise O’Neill’s brilliant book Asking For It is a very similar read. It’s as if Khorsandi picks up the baton from where Louise O’Neill’s Asking For It left off. I would strongly recommend to read it as part of a comparison study. In particular, the differences between the endings and supporting casts of each novel are very interesting.

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