Nina Is Not OK – Shappi Khorsandi

To drink to this level, to stay this fucked up, you need focus and determination and stacks of willpower. If it wasn’t so awful, I’d insist on a medal.

Seventeen-year-old Nina has a drink problem, although she’s not going to acknowledge it any time soon. We meet her being thrown out of a nightclub after giving a guy a blow job by the bar. She’s lost her friends but the guy and his mate come to look for her and walk her down the road to an alley. Sometime later, Nina’s in the back of a taxi.

I clutched my knickers in my hand. They were nice ones. Part of a set from Topshop. Thank God I’d retrieved them. I wanted to put them on but I couldn’t move. Why were my knickers in my hand? Did I fuck one of them? Both of them? Oh dear God no! Shit. No condoms. Not good. The gluey tang of spunk was in my hair.

It doesn’t occur to Nina that she’s been raped. When she returns home, her mum pulls her out of the taxi – alerted by the driver after Nina fell asleep and he couldn’t wake her. The following morning, Nina’s mortified at the thought of her six-year-old sister seeing her and her mum lectures her about her ‘party animal’ behaviour, comparing her to her dad who was also an alcoholic.

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Nina’s finding life particularly difficult of late after her boyfriend, Jamie, left to spend a year in Hong Kong with his dad. He went promising to message every day and then nothing. Eventually he let her know he’d met someone else. Nina’s not taking it well, sending emails to him that veer from total hatred to declarations of undying love. And then he posted pictures of himself and his new girlfriend on Facebook.

Beth had said, ‘Well, that’s a kick in the cunt.’ But it hadn’t been like that. It had been like a thousand kicks in the cunt and a giant fist around my heart squeezing until it burst, again and again and again.

Nina’s friend, Beth, is a feminist. She disagrees with Nina’s attempts to put Jamie’s new girlfriend down, refuses to let Nina be slut-shamed for giving a guy a blow job in a club, and thinks glossy magazines are ‘trash’. She’s a good foil for Nina’s thoughts about pretty much everything. Their other friend, Zoe, is completely gorgeous and really nice. That is until she begins dating Alex, the guy Zoe gave a blow job to.

Throughout the novel, Nina continues on a path of self-destruction, drinking more and more and sleeping with a range of guys in a variety of scenarios. Khorsandi writes without judging Nina although, of course, society has conditioned us to. It’s very difficult to read some of the situations Nina finds herself in and not blame her for failing to keep herself safe. Again, this societal construction wouldn’t apply if the sex of the protagonist were reversed and, as the novel progressed, I found myself increasingly angry at the men who didn’t acquire enthusiastic consent from Nina or, when they did, failed to give any consideration as to how intoxicated she was.

Khorsandi doesn’t shy from putting Nina in a whole range of plausible scenarios in terms of her abuse of alcohol, her sexual encounters, and the role that social media plays in teenagers’ lives. This is a complex, gripping look at a young woman struggling to come to terms with who she is and how society treats females who go against the virginal, nice girl stereotype they’re expected to conform to.

Khorsandi’s a comic so expect some laughs along the way too, although I found that some of the parts that were supposed to be funny – and a teenager would probably laugh at – I couldn’t find amusing: they were just too close to a reality that I find horrifying in my late 30s.

The book’s so compelling that I found myself having to finish reading it in a taxi queue at 1.15am following a trip on the last train home from London on which I usually fall asleep. I highly recommend it whatever age you are but I really think Nina Is Not OK should be handed out on Freshers’ Week and taught in schools as part of sexual consent classes. Not only is Nina Is Not OK a great read, it’s an important one too.

 

Thanks to Ebury for the review copy.

0 thoughts on “Nina Is Not OK – Shappi Khorsandi

  1. Interesting point you make about some parts that are funny to teenagers but might not be funny to anyone over 30 (and perhaps especially to mothers of girls). I have to admit I find it very painful generally to read of youth being squandered and abused in this way (even if it’s self-determined). Even without being judgemental.

    • I found it difficult because I felt as though I knew these kids – I’ve taught them and heard their stories and you’re right, it’s painful. That said, I think it’s a sign Khorsandi’s got it right – the teens reading this will recognise themselves or someone they know and it’s the best way of getting a message across to them.

  2. This sounds like a tough read despite the laughs. You make a good point about using books like this as a teaching aid. I’m sure reading it would be more effective at getting the message across than listening to someone decades older and therefore easily dismissed.

    • It was in places but I really believe that culture can change the world and this is the sort of book that might have an impact. It’s sweary, it’s brash, it’s horrifying in places but I could definitely see teenagers reading it and talking to their mates about it.

  3. This sounds like the kind of book I would love, but I do know what Marina means about making it fear for your daughter. The quotes you’ve used are great.

  4. This one is on my radar – have heard consistently ‘good’ things (inverted commas because obviously it’s not a fun topic). I might leave picking it up for a few months though, given that I’ve just finished O’Neill’s Asking For It (very good bu distressing for all the same reasons that I suspect this one will be).

    • I’m reading O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours at the moment and it’s very sharp. I think it’s brilliant but it is making me dread Asking For It.

  5. As I have the ‘rescue’ gene, I know I’d find this difficult to read. Having read your review though, I would definitely like to read it. ‘Culture can change the World’. Yes and yes!

  6. I think I’d probably find the laughs hard to deal with, too. Even if I hadn’t already known people who’d had these experiences going into university, I certainly knew people who’d had them by the time I graduated. Some of it I experienced for myself. It always unnerves me when people create humour, even black humour, out of it – even when, like with Khorsandi’s book, it’s done in such a way as to not minimize the issue.

    I don’t think I can read O’Neill’s work. I’ve thought about it a few times and I just can’t bring myself to do it. Too triggering, and in a way, it’d be like preaching to the choir – I’m not the reader who most needs to be hearing her words.

    • Good comment, Elle. I appreciate you posting it and can see how the humour can be a real problem. I hope these books will help some of those people who do need to hear it.

      • Me too – I’ve heard the O’Neill has been incredible in that regard, and that her events have been amazing too.

  7. Shared & bookmarked to come back to Naomi. Got this one to review too … helping my teens navigate the culture of social media – especially use/misuse of cameraphones – I agree this sounds a vital read!

    • Have you got Louise O’Neill’s Asking For It too? I haven’t read it yet but apparently that’s got the camera phone thing as a central premise. I’m reading O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours at the moment and that also covers social media use in terms of living your (fake) life on there and using it to bully.

  8. I’ve got both lined up… heard such great reviews but know they are going to be discomforting as it’s an area that is close to home and genuinely (at best) bemuses me but often shocks/horrifies/terrifies me… and I’m not exactly faint-hearted!

  9. You must read Asking For It! It was brilliant and similarly shocking. I must read this one too (and am now prepared for the hard subject matter). Great review.

  10. This one sounds fantastic, Naomi. The title rings a bell – maybe someone recommended it to me – but I can’t remember who or why. I love how you start the review, as it reminds me of that line in the film Trainspotting about all the time needed to be an addict: it’s a full-time occupation. I will keep my eyes open for a second-hand copy of this.

    P.S Can I say how much I miss you around? xxx

    • I think you’d be really interested in this one; I hope you get a copy.

      Aw, that’s very sweet. I’m missing chatting to you (and others) on Twitter but I’m getting SO much done.

      • Don’t get started on the ‘social media takes time away from my PhD’ thing, or I’ll end up in a cave being überproductive and losing my ability to establish meaningful relationships with people ;P

        • Hahahaha. You know what: it does and it’s great to get your concentration span back (I’d lost mine and it’s not good for solving big theoretical problems) BUT I miss all the brilliant people I’ve met on Twitter and I’ll be back soon. (I just hope I can create more of a sensible balance between PhD time and Twitter time.)

  11. This definitely sounds worthwhile and I appreciate what you’ve described about her efforts to find humour in the darkness. Thomas King has written a fantastic book called The Inconvenient Indian, which is also infused with his incandescent humour, detailing an account of several hundred years of genocide against indigenous peoples on the continent of North America. It is no less painful to read but somehow the telling is all the richer for it. I’m impressed that NIna’s story held your attention at such an hour too!

      • I know it seems like it would be, but I kept stopping to read passages aloud to family members because it is so so so funny at times. Really, any book on the topic of genocide has to be a difficult read, but his humour sets this work apart and makes it a true joy at times. (Not trying to convince you exactly, just wanted to add this so my previous comment didn’t seem like a deterrant!)

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