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Nicotine by Nell Zink
Literary fiction


by Nell Zink

Quick take

Reading a good book offers the rush of a good smoke at half the price of a carton of cigarettes, and with none of the associated health risks.

Why I love it

Nina Sankovitch
Bestselling Author

Like the drug from which the book gets its title, Nicotine is adrenalizing and addictive. I could not put it down. My heart was racing and my thoughts were percolating and enjoyment oozed from every pore as I sunk into Zink’s unadulterated good-time storytelling.

I couldn’t help but love Penny Baker, recent college grad of pure heart with zero prospects, a taste for cigarettes, and a preference for bone jewelry and drum circle dancing. She’s steeped in grief following the death of her father '“ an event that took weeks of hospice care (Zink skewers the promise of 'œa good death' with sharp insights and surprising humor) and Penny was bedside for the entire thing, while the other members of her family largely bailed out due to commitments like work and ambition and greed, concepts utterly foreign to our dear Penny.

Penny needs love and comfort but instead her eager-to-move-on family members throw her the bone of a long-abandoned family house in Jersey City. When Penny arrives to find the place already inhabited by a crew of cigarette-smoking, tobacco-chewing squatters, she realizes she has nothing to call her own except an urgent need to belong somewhere, somehow. Having caught sight of a cute guy and in need of a nicotine fix, Penny sticks around for a beer and a smoke.

What ensues is a joyful, unpredictable, and surprisingly-affecting coming of age story. Penny may already be in her twenties but there is just about everything she needs to learn about identity, community, and connection. Out of the wreckage of her broken family and with the help of an impotent lover, some adventurous housemates, a huge comfy couch, and her own freakish optimism, Penny comes into her own. Her patience (lack of resolve), determination (stubbornness), and flexibility (indecision) get her to the place where she wants to be, in the home where she was meant to be and with the people she needs.

A glorious and surprising ending after a twisting and satisfying ride: the act of reading a good book offers the rush of a good smoke at half the price of a carton of cigarettes, and with none of the associated health risks and no pariah status. Nell Zink and her fearless writing prove my point: Nicotine is a win/win addiction.

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Member thoughts

All (869)
All (869)
Love (73)
Like (325)
Dislike (471)
995 ratings
  • 7% Love
  • 33% Like
  • 47% Dislike
  • Leawood, KS

    At first I thought it was okay, a year later I find myself still remembering so much about it. It’s quite interesting. I suggest the read if you’re looking for good writing and something different.

  • Roanoke, VA

    This book relates to me on a real level as someone in their early 20's trying to figure everything out. I would recommend this book to older people who are trying to figure out our generation.

  • St. Francisville, LA

    I feel like this book (by goodreads stars) is underrated. Interesting/infuriating characters populate this story and draw the reader into the unfamiliar world of squatters/activist.

  • Charlottesville, VA

    In the best way possible, the characters in this book reminded me of exaggerated versions of friends and acquaintances. Couldn't put it down - it was great.

  • Aurora, CO

    I can't even explain this book. It is a perfect read for people who go to summer festivals and find humor while watching It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

  • Los Angeles, CA

    After a slow beginning, I came to love Nicotine. Amazing characters, funny plot and many surprises along the way. Stick with it! You'll be glad you did.

  • Burlington, VT

    Not your typical love story. Really unique setting and subject matter. It almost made me want to quit my desk job and become "homeless"! :)

  • Columbus, OH

    The first 25 pages were rough, but after that it was amazing! I've never read anything quite like this.

  • Hamilton, NJ

    Like nothing I've read before. Crazy, almost unbelievable but highly entertaining.

  • Fairview Park, OH

    So glad there's finally a satire for the "don't tweet from the protest" crowd.

  • Lexington, KY

    A hiliarous and interesting dive into family dynamics, community, and love.

  • Tampa, FL

    Such interesting dynamics. There were definite laughs and moments of awe.


    Equal parts interesting and ridiculous, I could not put this book down.

  • Old Saybrook, CT

    Captivating, didn't want to leave these people when the book ended.

  • Bradford , PA

    Great story. I feel the characters were realistic and relatable.

  • Elkhorn , WI

    Loved it like I've lived all the books I've gotten!

  • West Monroe, LA

    This one is on its way to being a literary classic.

  • Nahant, MA

    My first BotM! Quirky and strange but loved it

  • Elk Grove Village, IL

    Great story, characters were great!

  • Saint Marys, WV

    Loved, loved, loved this one!

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