One of the passions of my life is reading. I've been a total bookworm since I can remember, and Matthew has long ago got used to the fact that our home is destined to be filled with shelves of books. I like to read widely, from the classics to the cheesiest chicklit available, from children's books to non-fiction, and one of the nicest parts of my recent journey into writing and blogging more has been having the chance to review an ever increasing list of books.
Earlier this month the lovely folk at Ebury sent me a copy of the debut novel by Shappi Khorsandi. Having enjoyed her memoir A Beginners Guide to Acting English and having seen her comedy routine a few times (ah, Edinburgh), I was excited to read her first foray into fiction and intrigued by the premise of the book. I'll talk about it in the review but will try not to give the game away!
Nina, our central character, is a girl in her late teens - aiming for university and growing up in London. As the story unfolds we learn about her hidden depths, her struggles and her demons in no uncertain terms as the events of one awful night set her on a path to self-destruction.
This is a challenging, thought-provoking and vivid story. Khorsandi puts you right in the centre of things - she is clear and unerring about what she writes, and in moments of horror or anguish no punches are pulled. Nina, the protagonist of the novel, is a brilliantly flawed, challenging narrator. At points I wanted to slap her, at others give her the biggest hug!
Reading this book filled me with unease - it's an uncomfortable read, because it has to be. The subjects covered here - consent, or lack of it; the power of social media to shame and destroy; the machinations and horrors of teen friendships; alcohol & alcoholism; loss - are not those that lend themselves to prose of the 'rainbows and butterflies' ilk.
I can say I enjoyed this book because it's important, because of the light it shines on what judgement (particularly the particularly vicious judgement that occurs online) and shame can do to someone. It's important because we live in a time when a student can sexually assault an unconcious woman and his family and the judge in the case seemingly expect us to care more about his predicament than that of his victim. It's important because the topography of growing up has changed so much in a generation - Nina and her peers have smartphones, the internet, social media to contend with. Once again I found myself so, so grateful for teenage mishaps that took place far away from the the all seeing eye of social media (nothing like the awfulness that Nina endures and/or does, thank heavens) - a privelege and an experience not given to today's teens. My teenage crushes and bad outfits and silly opinions are consigned to history, deep in the nineties, in the fading memories of my friends, photos snapped with cheap and cheerful disposable cameras (the negatives long since lost) and a few scribbled notes and letters.
This book was hard going in places purely because Khorsandi writes so well - she puts you right in the scene and you have no real way to distance yourself from what's unfolding. This is a necessary evil, to move the story on and to make it seem all the more real, but man, at times I wanted to reach for the 'brain bleach', to coin a phrase from the internet forums of the noughties.
I'd give this books four out of five - it's a worthwhile read and is brilliantly real and very timely. I was advise against it if anything in my review is a trigger for you, as there are dark moments aplenty. That being said, I enjoyed the book, was pleased with the denouement, and think it's an important novel which shines a light on what a lot of our young people are dealing with (man, typing that made me feel ancient!) while going through the messy business of growing up in today's world.
Disclaimer: I was kindly sent a copy of 'Nina Is Not Okay' by Ebury to review. Opinions all mine, as ever!