This review is written with thanks to Netgalley for my copy of Nina Is Not OK.
Nina is seventeen. She goes out drinking most nights and takes miniature bottles of vodka to college so she can drink in the toilets at break. Her mum is worried she will become like her dad, who died of pancreatic cancer caused by alcoholism when she was nine. But Nina doesn't think there is a problem; after all, most teenagers get drunk occasionally. However, one morning, Nina realises that she is unable to remember anything from the night before. Will she be able to find out what really happened?
Khorsandi should be commended for tackling such challenging issues in Nina Is Not OK, including alcoholism, depression and sexual consent. The effectiveness with which she does this is brought to bear through the development of the main characters, especially Nina. I found that although some of the stereotypes of teenagers used in the novel could be extreme, I was able to relate to Nina, and empathise with the way she was feeling, particularly when her mood is at its darkest. Her relationships with others, particularly her sister Katie, are developed and described affectionately, and this helps the reader to see Nina's softer side and connect with the more emotional aspects of her character.
I am familiar with Khorsandi's work as a comedian, and I was intrigued to see how her sense of humour would translate to the page. To an extent, she conveys her sense of humour successfully in the novel, and there are moments of dark humour which strengthen the characterisation. However, as Nina Is Not OK addresses very sensitive issues, the humour sometimes feels uncomfortable, and I was uncertain whether laughing would be an appropriate response.
Whilst I felt that the characterisation in Nina Is Not OK helped to engage the reader and encourage them to think more deeply about the themes in the novel, at times it seemed that this was at the expense of the plot. At the beginning of the novel, there is a lack of urgency, and the plot appears to lack direction. As it progresses, it is clear that there were darker consequences to Nina's drinking. However, this is revealed very late in the novel, and I would have liked these to have been explored in more detail, particularly as the themes of mental health and sexual consent have been prominent in the media recently.
Overall, I found Nina Is Not OK very easy to read, and there were aspects of it that were very enjoyable. However, I feel that the potential presented by themes in the novel was not fully realised, which left me wanting more when I reached the end.
Nina Is Not OK is available from Amazon.