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…
AUTHOR: Louise Gornall
REPRESENTATION: agoraphobia, anxiety, OCD, panic attacks, and therapy
TRIGGER WARNINGS: mentions of self-harm
The moment I heard about this book, a book featuring agoraphobia, anxiety, and OCD representation, I just knew I needed to read it. For two years as a teenager, I suffered from a mild form of agoraphobia, triggered by a traumatic event and severe social anxiety. I’ve since been able to recover from my agoraphobia but still struggle daily with anxiety. Finding representation is hard enough, but finding accurate representation is even harder. Under Rose-Tainted Skies manages to encapsulate the true horrifying nature of what it’s like to live with these mental illnesses that is raw, unfiltered, and authentic.
‘Mental health is usually the last place people go when they think about someone being sick.’
Under Rose-Tainted Skies, takes you into Norah’s world. Norah, a seventeen-year-old who is, for the most part, housebound, who experiences panic attacks, and attends therapy. Her entire life revolves around her illnesses. What this book doesn’t do is it doesn’t blame Norah. It doesn’t treat her illnesses as her fault. It reminds you that mental health conditions, such as the ones Norah lives with, are invisible illnesses. You may not look the textbook definition of sick on the outside but it doesn’t make that illness any less valid. This is something we need to see more of, not just in books but in all art forms. In life.
Diving into Norah’s mind and getting to see her thought process, the way in which she catastrophises and works through each worst case scenario, was extremely relatable to me. That is how my brain works. I assume the worst. I focus on the more severe ‘what ifs’. Every time I got a glimpse at Norah’s thought process, it was a clear indicator to me that this novel is not just written by an author who has read about anxiety, but by an author who has experienced anxiety. Under Rose-Tainted Skies is a wholly authentic ownvoices book.
‘I wish I could reach out, put a hand on his shoulder, and ask him if he is all right. A side effect of worrying about everything and everyone; I cry at least once a week over things that shouldn’t concern me.’
Going into this, I was worried about the romance aspect of the book. I have read many books portraying a character with a severe mental illness where the trope has been to ‘cure’ that character with a love that takes less than a week to form. It’s unrealistic. It’s a terrible message to send, especially when these books have been aimed at teenagers and young adults. I should not have been worried about this book. Yes, there’s a romance plot, but it is as far from those tropes as it’s possible to be. For one thing it’s a very slow romance.
While Norah and Luke, her charming and witty next door neighbour, embark on a romance, it doesn’t act as a magic cure. Luke is encouraging and supportive. He doesn’t run when Norah has a panic attack. He doesn’t hide when Norah explains her condition to him. Instead, he adapts. He learns and does what he can to make things that little bit easier for her. In a way, I found this painful to read, because it’s similar to what my fiancé has done for me over the last six years. It hit extremely close to home.
‘See, anxiety doesn’t just stop. You can have nice moments, minutes where it shrinks, but it doesn’t leave. It lurks in the background like a shadow, like that important assignment you have to do but keep putting off or the dull ache that follows a three-day migraine. The best you can hope for is to contain it, make it as small as possible so it stops being intrusive. Am I coping? Yes, but it’s taking a monumental amount of effort to keep the dynamite inside my stomach from exploding.’
While I absolutely adore the representation in this book, I couldn’t bring myself to rate this a four or five star. Yes, the representation is phenomenal but I found the book was let down in other areas. The first being the overall plot. I love character-driven stories but I need something more. I require substance, which I felt this book lacked. Personally, I think the book was too short to incorporate everything it tried to do, so parts felt disjointed and rushed.
The ending was the biggest surprise for me – and not in a good way. I found it unexpected, unnecessary to include, and it happened so fast that it was extremely rushed in a blink once and you miss it kind of way. I felt that the purpose the ending served could have been achieved through any other means, and that this was only included in order to up the shock factor, which the book had been lacking.
While this book is flawed in areas, I think it should be read by everyone who wants to understand and educate themselves about these mental illnesses. It is authentic, moving, and unflinchingly raw.
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