I’m a huge fan of Shappi Khorsandi’s stand up so I was thrilled to hear she was writing a novel. Then I saw this cover and I got even more excited. A unique and brilliant novel which surprised me, warmed me and will stay with me. A masterpiece.
“Nina does not have a drinking problem. She likes a drink, sure. But what 17-year-old doesn’t?
Nina’s mum isn’t so sure. But she’s busy with her new husband and five year old Katie. And Nina’s almost an adult after all.
And if Nina sometimes wakes up with little memory of what happened the night before , then her friends are all too happy to fill in the blanks. Nina’s drunken exploits are the stuff of college legend.
But then one dark Sunday morning, even her friends can’t help piece together Saturday night. All Nina feels is a deep sense of shame, that something very bad has happened to her…”
I felt so much in common with Nina at first. I was definitely the girl at 17 who would drink too much every time I went out, enjoy male attention and throw up, feeling suitably shamed the next morning as my friends told me how annoying I was. It’s a remedy when you’re feeling insecure, or anxious, or just a bit rubbish. People remember you as ‘the laugh’ and you end up enjoying that role, at first anyway. When you’re 17, you just want to be liked. But Nina takes this to a whole new level.
As expected, Shappi’s debut novel is hilarious. Witty, original, likeable and wholly relevant. I actually read this book two months ago and am only just getting around to writing the review for publication, yet I can still remember it perfectly. Her voice is unlike anyone else’s in the market today and she’s proved here that she has a huge talent as a storyteller as well as a comedian. The book was heartfelt, honest and discussed issues I haven’t read before. Yes we’ve all read the book about characters who drink too much, but never a girl this young. I’ve certainly not read any that show it in such detail and with such poise. Nina’s deterioration is gradual at first, before spiralling and Shappi uses her writing to show that downfall perfectly. The pacing is spot on, the emotion involved heart-wrenching and you really do see how bit-by-bit, Nina ends up at rock bottom.
The story was believable too. You felt everything Nina did, we were on her side despite her sometimes ‘poor decisions’ and it showed perfectly her own realisation that she had a problem. We see this girl go from the life of the party, a girl we think is fun, if a little too vivacious – pushing boundaries we might not push. It just felt so real and Shappi wrote it so well, that even before discussing her brilliant characterisation and touching tone, it’s more the structure of this book that was so powerful to me. We really felt this decline, we saw it happening and every moment was believable. In her wildest moments, we don’t feel disgust – we feel pity, sympathy and a caring protective notion for Nina. We can see her disease and that’s what’s so important. Shappi has shown Nina as a victim of alcohol, not as a wild animal out of control. Not as a slut who drank too much. Not as a girl who ‘can’t handle her drink’. We don’t blame her once and that’s masterful writing.
Past that, the characters were rounded, lovable and relatable. We love Nina but we love her friends too, and Max and her own family, despite their problems. We laugh, we cry and we feel both protective and proud of Nina. It really shows what it’s like to be 17. As a young woman, I’m always hearing ‘it’s the best time of your life’ but this shows in a powerful way that it’s hard. Expectations are hard. Insecurities are hard. And the medicine you treat that with can be destructive.
I think this is a rare find. A book that speaks with such a distinctive voice, I won’t ever forget about it. There’s nothing else like it, nothing comparable, it’s truly unique with important messages delivered with detailed planning, stunning writing and a subtlety that makes it all the more poignant.
A wonderful debut from Shappi Khorsandi, I’m a fan for life. Nina is Not Okay is out on 28th July.