Title: UNDER ROSE-TAINTED SKIES by Louise Gornall
Genre: YA contemporary
Trigger warning: self harm
At seventeen, Norah has accepted that the four walls of her house delineate her life. She knows that fearing everything from inland tsunamis to odd numbers is irrational, but her mind insists the world outside is too big, too dangerous. So she stays safe inside, watching others’ lives through her windows and social media feed.
But when Luke arrives on her doorstep, he doesn’t see a girl defined by medical terms and mental health. Instead, he sees a girl who is funny, smart, and brave. And Norah likes what he sees.
Their friendship turns deeper, but Norah knows Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can walk beneath the open sky. One who is unafraid of kissing. One who isn’t so screwed up. Can she let him go for his own good—or can Norah learn to see herself through Luke’s eyes?
I am totally not surprised that I thoroughly enjoyed this one. This is an #ownvoices book where the main character has agoraphobia, anxiety and OCD. Since this book also deals with some self-harm, I must admit that it was hard to read at times, but for the most part, I really enjoyed it. The writing style is definitely either hit and miss, but it worked for me. My only problem is that this book falls into the girl-hates-girl trope about a popular, mean girl with no character development. Otherwise, this is definitely a new fave.
This book is super character driven, and since our main character can’t leave the house, there are only a handful of characters we actually see develop. I really liked Norah and her relationships with both her mother and with Luke. But what I love most about this was Norah was bad-ass in fighting and dealing with her OCD, agoraphobia and anxiety, and this book didn’t turn to “curing” Norah of her disorders through romance. Whilst there is romance, and the romance is a relatively large part of the novel, the main focus was on Norah, living our her life trying to deal with her agoraphobia, OCD and anxiety.
I really loved how supportive Norah’s mum was. I loved their relationship as more than just a mother-daughter relationship but as best friends as well. Norah’s mum helped push her, but not too much, and helped support her when she needed it. I thought their relationship was really well-written and well-developed. I also really loved the development of Luke and Norah’s relationship. I loved that Luke was respectful and understanding and he didn’t push Norah to do anything she wasn’t comfortable with. I personally thought this romance was a new, fresh romance for YA, especially considering the number of problematic romance tropes that are often written in YA mental health books.
As this book is written in first person, we are constantly in Norah’s head, reading about what she thinks and feels in certain situations. As I said before, this was certainly hard to read in some parts especially in the scenes where Norah is self-harming. I definitely think that a lot of the thoughts Norah has can be triggering to people, so please be careful & aware if you’re planning to pick this up! As this is an #ownvoices novel, I have no doubt that the portrayal of agoraphobia, OCD and anxiety was done respectfully and authentically, and I’ve read many #ownvoices reviewers mention how much they related to Norah and they way she thought and reacted in certain situations.
As I said, my only issue this this book was the girl-hate-girl trope this book falls into. Whilst I understand that Norah doesn’t let a lot of people into her life and that this probably came mostly from a place of projecting insecurities & jealousy, but I’m just really not a fan of this trope. I think this could’ve been an awesome opportunity to show some great female friendships, but alas, that’s not what was delivered. Other than that, I really liked Norah’s character and her relationships with both her mum and Luke.
As I said before, this book was very character driven and therefore most of the plot actually revolved around Norah’s day-to-day activities and the romance. The story also definitely revolved around Norah’s struggle with her illnesses and shows the full spectrum of her struggle honestly and authentically. Part of the reason this was so hard to read at times was because it revolved around Norah’s struggle with OCD, agoraphobia and anxiety but also her struggle with depression. Therefore, it was quite dark and very confronting at times. If you’re looking for a fast-placed, plot driven story, I don’t really think this book is for you, but if you enjoy character driven stories, definitely give it a go!
I think the writing is going to be either hit and miss for people. It’s honest, it’s raw, it’s unflinching in the descriptions of Norah’s struggle. It’s also beautiful and full of metaphors. I personally think the writing style was perfect for the story, but I can understand why some people don’t like it as much. Nonetheless, I was definitely taken aback by how amazing Gornall’s writing was, especially for a debut, so I’m very excited to read anything Gornall decides to write in the future!
Overall I’m definitely going to be recommending this book. As mentioned, a trigger warning is needed for self-harm, so please be aware of that. I found the writing to be beautiful, the characters to be realistic and engaging and I’m really pleased that the romance was not a magical cure for Norah’s struggle. If you’re a fan of contemporaries, look no further than this #ownvoices mental health book.