by Louise Gornall (2016)
“I’m being forced to challenge ideas that have kept me safe for so long. There’s an entire library of information in my head, and suddenly I can’t decide if any of it is worth reading.” – Louise Gornall, Under Rose-Tainted Skies
I saw this book all over Twitter and it sounded all right so I decided to pick it up when I bought What’s A Girl Gotta Do? and I am SO GLAD I DID.
This book was a really interesting and insightful read and one I recommend to anyone and everyone! Under Rose-Tainted Skies is all about agoraphobia and mental health experienced by a seventeen year old girl named Norah. Norah lives in her house with her mother, learning and doing school work at home and currently attending therapy. It’s far to say that life isn’t great for Norah; she has OCD, anxiety, panic attacks and agoraphobia which means she has an extreme fear of open/public spaces and remains confined to her house most of the time.
But one day new neighbours move in next door and Norah meets a boy called Luke whom she keeps bumping into in various awkward situations as she struggles to cope with simple tasks such as fetch the shopping in from outside. Luke soon becomes a friend to Norah and the book explores their relationship as time progresses and not only do we learn how she feels about Luke, but we see what she thinks Luke thinks about her.
I’ve read books featuring mental health issues before and found them really interesting to read – I don’t suffer myself but I do have OCD-like tendencies and I can get anxiety before a big event or something important/serious, like most people I think – we all have a degree of anxiety and OCD, but some more so than others. I think more people should read books like these that explain just what it is like having a mental health illness because it gives them some sort of understanding for what it feels like and leads to a more accepting and supportive society – many people get frustrated with people who have, for example agoraphobia or depression, because they don’t understand why they can’t just do something like go outside or just stop feeling so sad if they have depression. Humans are very good at being ignorant and it’s time we stop behaving in such a way because we don’t understand, and instead learn why.
Even though the book was quite short, I found myself taking longer than usual to read through a page because I couldn’t just quickly read through it, I needed to pay attention to the character’s feelings and it became really clear that she was genuinely sick because her brain was thinking in a way that wasn’t healthy. Norah tries so hard to do simple things like walk to the car or touch someone’s hand, but it was crippling her to do so and it just made me appreciate how difficult life is for some people in different ways to what we consider ‘difficult’.
The book is really cleverly written because it focuses on the one character and only 2-3 other characters really appear in the book: Luke and her mother (as well as the odd appearance of her therapist), and the entire story takes place inside her house. You’d expect this to become boring after a bit, the character never moving from one spot, but it doesn’t because it’s how dramatic everything is to the character that keeps the story animated. A person having a party next door would be boring and not worthy of even thinking about but to Norah it’s an anxiety-filled mess and she finds herself unable to stop watching the events unfold so she can feel a little in control of it – any other book would focus on the the inside of the party and drinking etc, but what about the next door neighbour to whom has anxiety and the party affects them so badly, despite not being involved?
I don’t think this book uses romance as the ‘answer to curing mental health’ or anything because the message is clear – it’s friendship. Yes, Norah describes how her feelings for Luke develop, but they start off as friends and it’s this that is needed when trying to battle a mental illness and this what gets Norah through some difficult situations. And also Norah tells us how her friends soon abandoned her when the agoraphobia presented itself. A person cannot fight something on their own, they need the support of friends and family and the community and this just shows how vital her mother, her neighbour and her therapist are each in helping Norah take control of her life again for the better.
Also, the book was quite hard-to-read at some points as it described what she was feeling as she uses self-harm to gain some control of her spiralling thoughts and emotions. Again, this was really insightful to read because we get to understand why she’s doing it as she explains her body’s physiological reactions and her thought processes. Some people will believe that self-harm is a ‘call for attention’ but it’s ignorance – they don’t understand why that person is driven to harm themselves and so rationalise it into the most plausible explanation to them: attention when they just need some education into something they don’t understand.
This is why we need books like this. This is why we need more people to read about mental health and have it spoken about more freely and shown on television/film more often because the more we are exposed to something, the more likely we are to begin to understand it and appreciate others and their differences to ourselves.
It was just brilliant to read and describes agoraphobia clearly to someone who doesn’t know what it feels like to suffer from it, in a way that reading leaflets or articles about the condition just can’t. Mental health awareness is slowly spreading and it’s things like this – books – that will truly raise awareness further because, after all, books are the strongest weapon in the face of adversity.
And just because this gif is so appropriate:
I won’t write about any spoilers in the book, but I will say that I thoroughly recommend reading Under Rose-Tainted Skies – it’s a short book and can be read in a day but will give you lots to think about and might just help fight the stigma that is attached to mental health, one that is, thankfully, slowly being removed.
Books that make you think about the world and your actions, are ones that you know are truly amazing.
“‘Effect and outcome.’
‘Exactly. We can assume the best, but we can’t choose how people perceive us. We can however, choose how those views affect us.'” – Louise Gornall, Under Rose-Tainted Skies