” ‘You don’t look very sick,’ the guy says as I scrawl my name in thick black letters.  It doesn’t fit nicely on the little dotted line.
‘How grossly inappropriate of you to notice,’ I reply, fighting to keep my voice even.  I’m not surprised by his comment.  It’s not the first time I’ve heard it.
As far as looking sick goes, people generally think I don’t.  I have what Dr. Reeves calls an invisible illness.”

Title: Under Rose-Tainted Skies
Author: Louise Gornall
Young Adult Contemporary Fiction ♦ 336 pages ♦ Clarion Books ♦ Published 3 January 2017

Louise Gornall’s debut novel about a young woman navigating the world of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and agoraphobia delivers a gut-punching display of the reality that approximately 5,000,000 people in the USA live with every day.   

Protagonist Norah Dean wasn’t always like this.  She used to go to school, have a strong group of close friends, take walks in the open air without collapsing–but ever since her first panic attack in chemistry class, her life has adjusted to the new normal of being afraid of everything.

Organizing books in stacks by number of pages.  Taking the last step twice to keep things even.  Researching flesh-eating bacteria “just in case.”

Going outside into the world?  Not a chance.  Not without suffering a total anxiety attack.  And while Norah can’t stand living this way, it’s now the world she’s grown accustomed to.  She and her therapist discuss medication and giving up control, but Norah would rather embrace her current situation  than try something new, because that something new might just kill her.

But one day her mother gets into a car accident while on the road for work, and Norah is forced to be on her own for over a week as he mother recovers in the hospital.  And to make matters worse, she’s been noticed by the new neighbor boy, Luke, who begins sliding notes under her door and trying to get her to talk to him.  Luke is cute, and sweet, and charming, and for some reason seems to want to spend time with her instead of with
“normal” girls.

But will Luke stick around when he realizes that Norah literally cannot do things that other people can do?  Would it be best, for his sake, to push him away for his and Norah’s own sanity?  And when will Norah allow herself to envision a future defined by her and not by her disorder?

What an amazing first read for 2017.  I devoured this book.  The author doesn’t hold back in her descriptions, totally nailing the overwhelming nature of full-scale anxiety attacks, right down to the uncontrollable shaking, hot flashes, skin-picking, drooling.  And she pulls no punches in the obviousness of the cognitive dissonance that is living with anxiety disorders.  Norah knows her behaviors are unreasonable to the general public.  She knows that it’s hard to be friends with someone who doesn’t “look” sick and who used to be totally functional.  She watches from her bedroom window with envy at the neighborhood teens over at Luke’s house and they laugh and joke and playfully shove each other around.  But of course, if mental illness operated in a reasonable manner, it wouldn’t be so insidious.

This book explores multiple issues when it comes to boundaries and consent.  As her friendship with Luke progresses, Norah’s internal alarms begin going off as he casually make remarks about “one day we’ll go to Paris together,” and suggests making physical contact.  Norah is clear about her physical boundaries which he initially accepts, but at one point he crosses a line, small in his mind but hugely unforgivable for Norah. He basically claims he couldn’t help it because she was looking so beautiful and in the moment and whatnot, and can’t understand why Norah would have such a freak-out.  And of course, Norah wonders if everything is, indeed, her fault, not just in that instance, but throughout the novel.

To have young characters explore the intersections of their identities in such a poignant way (pretty+sick, blissfully ignorant+ally) elevates the romantic portions of the narrative beyond “instalove” and keeps it real.  Ultimately, this book is one of hope, not just “boy meets girl and rescues her” Disney princess hope, but “there is always hope, and if you can’t see it today, that’s ok, too” style.

In sum, read it. Bring mental health awareness into the light.  Someone you know will appreciate it.

Rating: 4/5

About the Author

Louise Gornall lives in the United Kingdom.  She first began writing Under Rose-Tainted Skies as a way to work through the mental health issues that she and her protagonist Norah share.   Today, she uses her presence to advocate for mental health and support those with mental illness.  You can find and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and BookishBlurb.com.