Everything is under control. It’s not rosy — I’m not going to win any prizes for Most Exciting Life or anything, but at least I’m safe from the outside world, right?
Wrong. This new boy, Luke, just moved in next door, and suddenly staying safe isn’t enough. If I don’t take risks, how will I ever get out — or let anyone in?
This is going to be a hard review to write. Not because Under Rose-Tainted Skies isn’t a good book, because is brilliant. And not because I didn’t love it, because I loved it to pieces. But because reviewing this book and explaining why I find it so absolutely wonderful means I’ll have to get personal and that is always somewhat scary.
I have a confession to make. I have social anxiety and when I’m under stress I tend to worry about everything and have to double-check ALL THE THINGS. I have to consciously close the door and lock it, or I’ll turn around and be convinced I forgot to lock the door, even if I’m still holding my keys in my hands. To be fair, I’m at a point now where I’m well enough, and confident enough, that it rarely gets the better of me and I’ve learned coping strategies for certain pain points or to push through my double-checking tendencies. And while my anxiety doesn’t keep me housebound as it does Norah, I’ll always feel awkward in crowds or among people I don’t know —notice I said feel, I may not look it. That is this reader’s context, it is the baggage I brought to reading this book.
And because of all that, Under Rose-Tainted Skies hit very close to home. Because Gornall nails it; when Norah goes into a mental tailspin, it felt as if I was looking at my own head from the outside. Norah’s symptoms, her agoraphobia, and her self-harm might not be things I’ve suffered from, but her need for control and her inability to literally get out of her head are all too familiar. Gornall perfectly catches the exasperation you feel with your own mind and its perfect ability to undermine you at every step, preferably when you least expect it.
That being said, please don’t think Under Rose-Tainted Skies is all doom, gloom and depressing. It is quite the opposite in fact. It is incredibly funny, mostly thanks to Norah’s sense of humour and self-deprecating snark. It is also incredibly endearing. The romance between Norah and Luke is sweet and I loved the bond between Norah and her mum. The honesty with which Gornall portrayed the guilt Norah feels towards both of them for saddling them with the burden of her limitations, as she calls them, and how hard it is for a loved one to deal with someone who is caught in their own head, to allow yourself to both feel understanding for and exasperation with them, was breathtaking.
Most of all, Under Rose-Tainted Skies is incredibly hopeful. Even if there are no magical cures for Norah, we do see that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that she can get better, even if it is a long, slow process. And despite the set-up, Norah doesn’t get better because of or for Luke. He might be a catalyst in the process, but he is never the reason. Norah gets better, because she works to become better, because she realises that if she’s ever going to realise her dreams, she’ll have to be able to leave her house. And more importantly, that she can get better, and that sometimes if the worst happens, you get through it and come through it stronger.
Under Rose-Tainted Skies left me tear-stained, shattered, and smiling. After I finished the book I handed it to my husband and told him that if he wanted to know what is was like when I was trapped in my head, this book caught it perfectly. Louise Gornall’s debut is absolutely brilliant and I can’t recommend it highly enough.