TW: self harm and mental illnesses (ocd, depression, agoraphobia, and anxiety)
Under Rose-Tainted Skies is a contemporary fiction novel written by Louise Gornall. It follows the main character, Norah Dean, who is a seventeen year old girl who suffers from OCD, agoraphobia, anxiety, and depression. She is constantly washing her hands, she can't eat certain foods, she's terrified of going outside, and she's scared that her mental illness will keep her trapped in her house forever. That feeling of wanting more, but being too scared to take those steps to achieve more, increase when a boy moves next door. There is one section of spoilers that I have italicized so please read carefully.
This book is one I think will hit home for a lot of people who suffer from any or all of the mental illnesses that Norah suffers. I am someone who suffers from anxiety and depression, both of which affect when and how often I find myself leaving the safety of my apartment. So there were a lot of times I really related to Norah's thoughts about her mental illnesses. This book is an Own Voices novel, which means the author is someone who has experienced the mental illnesses that Norah faces in her story. Which adds a level of truth that makes reading the story feel more realistic.
The writing is done well for the most part (more on that later) and it was really easy to get addicted to Norah's story through Gornall's writing style. Because of the fast paced nature of the story, it's a quick read, which I really needed and enjoyed being able to enjoy the book in two sittings. I think, like I said earlier, what made this book really special to me was how much I could relate to the main character. She deals with more of an extreme level of her mental illnesses than I do, but I still found my thoughts in hers and my story within hers.
However, I didn't enjoy a couple things. The biggest one being the ending. I order to not spoil people, I'll italicize the spoilers and then keep going in a new paragraph, so if you don't want to be spoiled, just hop to the next paragraph. (Warning: SPOILERS) I really do not like how the break in pushed Norah to leave her house. I was hoping she would make this decision on her own, and I think she was gradually getting to that point to be able to do it. I also don't think the break in was needed for the story, it came out of no where and with the ending being so abrupt it felt out of place.
My other problem with the story is there seemed to be a lot of similes. At times Gornall's writing was really beautiful and raw, and other times it felt too forced mainly with the similes. Although this isn't a huge deal, and I still obviously really loved the book, but I definitely think it took away a part of my enjoyment. I think that's because the way Norah's illness was handled was so raw and relatable to me, that it was unfortunate to have a part of the book feel forced. I also didn't fully love the way her Mom was constantly gone. I am honestly not sure how I fully feel about this, but it felt weird to me that her Mom conveniently was gone for a nice portion of this book. I don't hate it, but it also felt off to me.
One absolute great thing about the book, something I cannot stress enough, is that I loved that the romance was not the focus of the story. Luke was not the character to swoop in and fix Norah's mental illness with his presence. I like that he learns about her mental illnesses as their friendship grows and he makes mistakes. I found myself smiling at how cute they were, and I enjoyed their back and forth bantering.
Another great topic that is brought up in Under Rose-Tainted Skies is the stigma surrounding mental illnesses. As a society we are sympathetic to people who suffer from physical illnesses (ie: cancer) but when it comes to mental illnesses. However, people with mental illnesses are often times looked at as "not really sick" because it's invisible. Norah has to deal with this way of thinking where people she thought were her friends or even family tell her to suck it up, or try to forget about it. I think this kind of conversation is important to have because a lot of people who suffer from mental illnesses or any sort of illnesses where there isn't anything physical to show they're dismissed as not actually sick.
I think Norah was a really good main character. Not only could I relate to her but she was funny. Her humor made her character really easy to love. I like that she had worried and concerns for normal teenage stuff. Like what to wear when she was around Luke, how she looked, smelled. Using makeup for the first time (if not first, then in a long time). It was endearing and sweet. Luke was a sweet character, we get to know him more than I expected to, which made me like him even more. I really enjoyed the way their friendship developed. It felt very natural.
Overall, I recommend this book to everyone but especially to people who either suffer from a mental illness or are interested in learning more about the four mental illnesses in this book.