I’ve had the opportunity to explore numerous books, particularly in 2022, when I achieved a personal best of 112 reads (a total I aspire to surpass this year). Within this literary journey, I have encountered countless books that stirred a spectrum of emotions — laughter, tears, and contemplation of my own existence. Amidst this rich collection, one book has etched itself into my memory, surpassing all of my expectations. This standout novel is Nina is Not OK by Iranian-British comedian Shaparak Khorsandi, and it has left an indelible mark on my life.
My discovery of the novel was accidental; I stumbled upon it while perusing Goodreads for the next addition to my reading list. The name resonated with me, being a fellow Nina who has had her fair share of being ‘not OK’. I swiftly picked up the audiobook narrated by Khorsandi herself, finishing it in one sitting. I became consumed by the resemblance of the fictional Nina to myself.
We meet 17-year-old Nina, in a state of disarray after being blackout drunk at the club. The aftermath, marked by a hazy, regrettable sexual encounter and her holding her underwear in the taxi home, haunts her. When her mum and stepdad then tell her that they’re moving to Germany, she refuses and insists on staying with her friend Beth, but this idea falls short. Her boyfriend leaves her for an exciting gap year, her dad is out of the picture due to his own alcoholism, and she is isolated from everybody she loves. Eventually, she completely breaks down when a video reveals the non-consensual nature of that fateful night, leading to escalating drinking episodes that send her to rehab, where she is forced to confront the reality of her situation. With some hiccups along the way, Nina eventually realises that she can recover with the support of her friends and family — but only if she chooses to accept it.
Regrettably, I recognise aspects of myself in Nina — struggling with knowing when to stop drinking, grappling with stubbornness, and refusing to admit when circumstances go awry. Nina faces constant rejection from various people, yet her stubbornness impedes the confrontation of her emotions, and she uses alcohol as a coping mechanism. My own complicated relationship with alcohol, influenced by family battles with alcoholism, makes Nina’s story resonate with my own. I, too, have found myself compromised and vulnerable due to excessive drinking, while knowing my intentions for drinking were to evade dealing with my issues.
Nina’s narrative serves as a beacon of hope, inspiring me to confront my mental health struggles for a better life. The raw depiction of teenage emotional turmoil, coupled with Nina’s authentic character development, mirrors the challenges many adolescents navigate. Khorsandi’s insightful portrayal feels uncannily relatable, as if she truly understands my own experiences.
This connection solidified when I delved into Khorsandi’s latest book, Scatter Brain, where she reveals her ADHD diagnosis in her 40s. Her retrospective account explores all the ways in which ADHD had affected her without her even realising it, shedding light on her own alcohol addiction as a form of self-medication for what she thought was simply being a “scatterbrain”. Discovering that Khorsandi grew up in the same London borough as me, through her mentioning familiar streets and schools, I felt like it was mirroring my own surroundings. My own recent ADHD diagnosis and self-reflection on my struggles adds a layer of understanding as to why this book has lingered in my thoughts.
In the world of fiction, reality is often distorted by depictions of an idyllic and fantastical life, making it challenging to find genuine reflections of the human experience. Shaparak Khorsandi, however, defies this trend by addressing the struggles of mental health and alcoholism with a rare combination of brutal honesty and tasteful humour. Reading Nina is Not OK, I felt seen and validated, and I am grateful for Nina’s hopeful ending, which affirms that there is hope for my journey as well.