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.