Book: Under Rose Tainted Skies
Author: Louise Gornall
I acquired this book at YALC last year, signed by the author (who was lovely by the way) but for whatever reason, did not get around to it until now, for both the #RockMyTBRChallenge and the YALC Reading Challenge I am running. I have read quite a few books about mental illness that I have enjoyed, but this one definitely stands out for me, you can tell that the author is drawing on personal experience (this is an #ownvoices book, Louise Gornall suffers from the same conditions as Norah) because Norah’s voice just feels so authentic and real. This is not an easy book to read by any means, Norah’s thoughts are intense and scary but I think it is an important one, because those of us who do not suffer from mental illnesses cannot possibly hope to fully understand what it’s like, but we can be given small insights from books like these, and it’s even more important because the author has actually experienced the illness she is writing about. We need to give exposure for these kinds of invisible illnesses to people who have suffered from them, in order to get a true understanding of what it’s like. Here is a short synopsis of the book:
Agoraphobia confines Norah to the house she shares with her mother.
For her, the outside is sky glimpsed through glass, or a gauntlet to run between home and car. But a chance encounter on the doorstep changes everything: Luke, her new neighbour. Norah is determined to be the girl she thinks Luke deserves: a ‘normal’ girl, her skies unfiltered by the lens of mental illness. Instead, her love and bravery opens a window to unexpected truths …
An important and uplifting debut from a British author, which tackles mental health issues such as agoraphobia and OCD.
I guess first of all I should probably say that I loved Norah, as she is the main character of the novel! She felt so authentic and relatable and although I’ve never suffered from agoraphobia or OCD or anxiety, I could definitely relate to certain aspects of her struggles, her awkwardness around people (boys in particular), her not liking being touched, her googling how to kiss, her fears of being judged, are all things that I have experienced at one point or another in my life. I liked how her mental illness wasn’t all she was, she had interests and dreams outside of that, but at the same time, the author showed how her mental illness put limitations on her life, I thought she got the balance perfect. Norah also had such a strong, distinctive voice, which I liked. I also appreciated Norah’s witty, self deprecating humour, she knows that aspects of her illness are irrational and she’s able to laugh about it, I really loved that.
The mother-daughter relationship was portrayed so well in this too! So often in YA books, mothers are absent so I appreciated seeing Norah’s mother not only present here, but actually taking an active role in her daughter’s life, it was refreshing to see.
Norah’s thought processes were incredibly intense, I appreciated the authenticity of this, but it did make me feel very uncomfortable (which I acknowledge was probably the point, you’re not meant to feel comfortable with a book like this) and I don’t suffer from the same illnesses as Norah, so I would say if you do suffer from anxiety, agoraphobia, OCD or depression, it could be potentially triggering, as her thoughts are so intense and the panic attacks are described quite vividly. There are also sections of self harm in the book as well, so that could also be potentially triggering.
I liked Luke, he was sweet and understanding and everything, but I did feel like his character was a little flat. He was just the cute, understanding, sweet boy next door and there didn’t feel like there was much more to him? I don’t know, maybe this was just me. I also felt the same for most of the other characters apart from Norah, they felt pretty one dimensional.
I appreciated the awkwardness between Luke and Norah, too often it feels like YA characters are way too good at flirting? Like I make a complete fool of myself around guys I like and you guys are just trading back and forth witty banter so easily? No. Just not realistic. So I appreciated that that wasn’t all smooth sailing for them, and that they found flirting awkward, because it is! I didn’t really feel a romantic spark between the two of them though? They felt more like friends to me than love interests, and no, that wasn’t just because Norah’s illness prevented them from touching, it was more than that. It’s hard to explain, but when two characters like each other in a book, I usually feel it and here I just didn’t. I also felt like the plot relied a little too much on the romance as aside from Norah meeting and falling for Luke, not much really happens.
I liked the tone of the writing, how it could go from intense one moment, to witty and self deprecating the next, I think Louise Gornall struck a great balance between the intensity of mental illness and at the same time kept up a great sense of hope and humour through the book. The actual writing itself was quite simple, and did occasionally lean towards overly descriptive, with a few too many similies and metaphors, but it was decent overall.
It was definitely a more character driven novel than a plot driven novel, which I didn’t mind so much as Norah’s voice was so strong, although there were times when I got a little bored because the plot was relatively thin.
The chapters were nice and short, which I liked because it meant the book was fast and easy to read, but it did cause a few problems when it came to the climax of the book, because it felt rather rushed because of this and the ending was kind of abrupt.
There were also certain parts of the plot that felt unrealistic. Like Norah’s mum leaving her alone for all that time? It seems to me like if your daughter was as mentally ill as Norah, you would have someone you trust at least coming in to check on her. It also seemed weird that she wouldn’t make sure her daughter had enough food before she left, rather than relying on strange food delivery people when she knows her daughter is terrified of strangers. It was just little things like that, which yes needed to be there to make the plot work but were also seemed unrealistic that kind of bugged me. There were certain characters, like Amy and Norah’s grandmother, who were brought up a lot and then didn’t really seem to have any impact on that plot.
I liked that Norah had a great support system with her mum and her therapist and Luke, that was nice to see and it was also nice to see therapy and medication for mental illnesses being portrayed in a positive way because that isn’t always the case.
It also impressed me that Louise Gornall managed to set this book all in one house and still have it be engaging and not feel monotonous as that could have quite easily happened.
I really wasn’t a fan of the ending, it felt like it kind of came out of left field and didn’t really fit with the rest of the book? Like you have this contemporary and then suddenly in the last thirty pages it almost becomes a thriller? And as I said earlier the end was kind of abrupt. I did like that Norah wasn’t “cured” of her mental illness by the end of the book (and that she wasn’t miraculously healed by falling in love with a boy) but it did leave off with a sense of hope that things could get better for her, even if it was a little abrupt.
Overall, this was a solid debut. The experiences that the author brought to the book from her own life definitely heightened the authenticity of the mental health aspect and the character voice was extremely strong. The plot was a little thin for my liking and the ending could have used a little more time and page space, but it was overall an enlightening book and I would definitely be willing to read more from this author!
My rating: 3.5/5
My next review will be of The Bone Season, by Samantha Shannon.