This year I wanted to read more books either on mental health or that represent mental health. I started off with So Sad Today (review here) which I absolutely loved, then followed this up with Mad Girl which I enjoyed but I didn’t think was anything to write home (or blog) about. These books, however, are all non-fiction and personal accounts of mental health and thus are going to get it right, they are lived accounts, and although honest, insightful and relatable, for me personally, I read them because I wanted to finish them not because I was hooked.
So, I started to look for fiction that represents mental health. I started off with The Vegetarian by Han Kang that I would definitely recommend but I felt was quite full on. When writing about mental health the advice you are always given is to have a message of positivity and not to use graphic details. The Vegetarian did both these things and although a brilliant novel, I felt it still wasn’t what I was looking for in terms of mental health representation.
Then I read Nina is Not Okay and I thought yes this is how you write about mental illness to an audience of young people. As someone, who has lived experience of mental illness I learnt through Nina as I’ve no experience of alcoholism which is the main theme of the novel.
The story starts with an extremely drunk and underage Nina being kicked out of a club for performing sexual acts on a man which we later discover isn’t all that it seems. The sexual assault that occurs during the novel is frank and descriptive making you as the reader really feel the pain that Nina feels. When the assault is used against Nina as revenge porn it really made me think of the times in high school when somebodies “nudes” were leaked and how everyone in school mocked and taunted the person. Now, as an adult, I understand why that is so wrong, and the pain the person must go through when they are shamed in such a way. For a younger reader, this could be the eye-opening education moment that makes them think twice about the language they may be using around “slut shaming” and the effect it can have on an individual’s mental health.
Nina’s grief is a presence throughout, through which we learn about her troubles with her father growing up and the effect it now has on her as an adult. The part I loved most about her grief and depression is how she explained it to her younger sister for what it was whilst remaining positive. Telling her, I was sad, I am sad but I’m okay now, I will be okay, showed Nina’s acceptance of her mental illness whilst showing she was willing to get better and to work on her recovery.
The recovery aspect of Nina is Not Okay is fantastic. From inpatient in rehab to AA meetings, to relapse and the way that friends and family supported and sometimes didn’t showed recovery for everything it is. Nina had to work at it every single day and in parts it was awful and that was never shied away from. It also showed that recovery doesn’t work for everyone when Nina loses a new friend to alcoholism it again shows the importance of working at recovery every single day.
Despite the serious nature of the topics that Nina Is Not Okay covers it is still humorous but what else would you expect from the comedian author. To me, this showed that you can find humour in the darkest times and that sometimes taking charge of your own illness and making light of it can really help you deal with the hard times.
I thoroughly enjoyed Nina Is Not Okay and it’s mental health representation and would recommend to anyone. Don’t be put off by its serious themes as overall it is emotional read with a message of positivity and hope. I was rooting for Nina throughout and finished the novel pleased she got the ending she deserved, surrounded by love.
Have you read Nina Is Not Okay? What other books with a mental health theme should I read?
Lots of love, Rose x