Nina is not OK
Nina is a heavy drinking college student, her friends enjoy her status as ‘college legend’ for her drunken escapades and don’t seem to be very concerned about her at the outset of the novel. However one Saturday night, even her friends don’t have a clue about what she got up to, and things begin to take a darker turn in Nina’s life.
I knew of Khorsandi through her stand up, having watched her perform on Mock the Week and wondered if any of the darker edged humour she used then would cross over into her novel. I needn’t have worried, Nina is written from the 1st person point of view, and has a well developed black sense of humour to enable her to deal with the difficulties of her past.
She has been given a number of different causes that might have contributed to her drinking problem. Her father’s early death from pancreatis, her mother’s remarriage to someone she’s not very fond of, her boyfriend dumping her after he moves to Hong Kong, and her grandma’s suicide at Morden train station could possibly be things that she suppresses with the aid of alcohol.
The bond that she has with her younger half sister Katie is particularly touching, as even in the midst of Nina’s darkest episodes with alcohol, she tries her best to shield Katie from the realities of what she’s dealing with, and is by and large a dedicated and protective big sister. She clearly loves Katie, worrying about the fact that Katie’s fingers and toes on her left side aren’t ‘formed properly…she has missing digits and the ones there are, are gnarled stumps’.
Khorsandi captures the reality of how college students can be with each other perfectly, showing both the good and the bad. Nina has a strong bond, dating from early childhood with Beth, who shares a similar sense of humour and stands by Nina throughout the majority of the novel. There is only one event that really puts Nina’s friendship with Beth at jeopardy, coming about halfway through, however they reconcile fairly quickly.
There are a few moments when Nina’s behaviour, and life choices are definitely hard to empathise with, given that I’ve no real experience with the issues she deals with. However Khorsandi has created a character that it’s very hard not to like, and root for, particularly during the break down of her friendship with Zoe. Zoe is the third member of her tight friendship group, but doesn’t really share a lot of characteristics with Beth or Nina.
If you want to read a ultimately inspiring and touching novel, about a teenager managing to deal with some of her demons then Khorsandi has produced one with a good deal of heart and humour. It’s definitely one to pick up.