Nina is Not OK is the debut novel by Shappi Khorsandi, one of my favourite stand up comedians. It was released last year, and is about Nina, a seventeen year old Londoner struggling with addiction, grief, as well as all the regular struggles that come with being a teenager. This review will be as spoiler free as possible, but contains references to alcohol addiction and sexual assault.
I LOVE NINA. There, I said it. That’s what this entire review could probably be condensed down to: I really, really love Nina. She’s smart, funny, aware of herself, but most importantly, she’s fucked up. Like, really fucked up. Over the course of this book, she shags a forty year old man in a park and gets so drunk she wets herself – and that’s just the tip of Nina’s booze-infused iceberg. In fact, I’m pretty sure at least one of those things happens in chapter one, and both of them happen in the first 100 pages.
That, then, gives you a quick introduction to quite how much is crammed into this book. Shappi tackles class, race, sex, and maybe most importantly, mental health and grief. I’m gutted this book isn’t being targeted at young adults – it’s got some very adult themes in it, sure, but I would have killed for a book like this when I was sixteen or so. It would have been such a wonderful reminder that it’s normal to go through some shit times – that you’re not as fucked up as you think, and even if you are, it’s only temporary, and you’ll settle again. It serves as a fab reminder to the teenagers of the world that sex happens! Drinking happens! You’re gonna be okay, kid.
I also found this book to be a feminist manifesto, which is interesting, because Nina seems to be quite sceptical of her self-identifying feminist best mate, Beth. Quite cleverly, Nina never really refers to herself as a feminist – that way, she sort of gets away with all the typical teenage bitching she does, but it’s still addressed as problematic through Beth.
But there was a wonderful balance – despite the huge girl power, aren’t-men-shit vibes – most of the men in Nina’s life are actually quite wonderful. Alan, her stepdad, seems like a bit of a drip, but he’s fiercely protective. Max, Beth’s dad, is incredibly warm and kind, and keeps his cool in uncomfortable situations. Even the teenagers are well represented – there’s an evil bloke, a few lovely blokes, and one who’s in between. As for the women – they’re all strong, and different, and so interesting. Nina’s college mates are recognisable without being cookie-cutter; even the adult women are complicated, which often isn’t found in this kind of literature. For example, Nina’s mum has her own struggles, she isn’t just a superhero parent who can immediately save the day and sort everything out. Personally, though, I’m hoping for a sequel starring Nina’s gorgeous gay English teacher, who even I had a crush by the final chapters.
There are times this can be quite a tough read – if you’ve ever felt like a bit of a slag or struggled with addiction, I’d litter Nina with trigger warnings. But that’s where its strengths lie: these characters are struggling, and as a result, I got very attached to Nina very quickly. I stayed up until 3am so I could make sure she was OK in the end, and throughout I just wanted to give her a massive, lovely hug and stroke her hair. Being a person is hard, and no one in this book has it easy. If you aren’t too sensitive to the content, and you’re not too young, I’d definitely recommend Nina is Not OK; it’ll remind you that everyone is a bit fucked up, but that you’re surrounded by people who love you regardless.