Norah has agoraphobia and OCD. When groceries are left on the porch, she can’t step out to get them. Struggling to snag the bags with a stick, she meets Luke. He’s sweet and funny, and he just caught her fishing for groceries. Because of course he did.
Norah can’t leave the house, but can she let someone in? As their friendship grows deeper, Norah realizes Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can lie on the front lawn and look up at the stars. One who isn’t so screwed up.
***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Clarion Books
This book. I’m still reeling. What a whirlwind. Norah suffers from a heavy and debilitating combination of agoraphobia and OCD, that effectively makes her housebound. Her mind runs a mile a minute with scenarios that rival 1,000 Ways to Die. Things that the average person would never think of, statistics, all merge into a fatalistic and fearful main character.
Where do I even begin? The author and the main character share their mental illnesses so the writer is painting her experience vividly and with authority. You can feel it in every thought, every action, the way Norah’s mind expands and she closes in on herself. It’s heartbreaking, terrifying, and absolutely puts you in the character’s shoes. Every fear, every anxiety is magnified and coupled with her OCD quirks that won’t allow her to step outside of her comfort zone and there’s no telling what will set off her spiral into fear and depression. Norah tries hard to control everything to alleviate her fears and when she can’t, she turns to self harm. Those moments are especially poignant. Many times her self-loathing, frustration, and anger with her illness pours off the page. She hates that she can’t be normal. At first Norah is hard to sympathize with because her OCD and agoraphobia is so pronounced. As someone who doesn’t suffer from these illnesses, you’ll think, why can’t she just get over? What’s the big deal? You might even get a little annoyed. But as the story progresses, you get it. 100%. You understand that Norah has no choice, that she struggles and fights and her mind overwhelms her. And it’s gut-wrenching what she goes through, how every little action consumes her and forces her to act a certain way despite what her heart years for. I mean, wow.
The story is basically Norah opening herself up to new experiences, facing her insecurities through baby steps, and learning to hope for a future where she won’t be limited, where she will have the freedom to embrace her dreams of travel and dating like a “normal” girl. Under Rose-Tainted Skies straddles a fine line and where I think it might face some critique fire is in terms of romanticizing mental illness. Many times, a guy or girl will come in and suddenly they’re the miraculous cure, and IMO if love can help, I’m all for it, but lately readers have objected to that sort of cure-all at the site of a hot guy. Luke, to me, is a spark that ignites her, he lights her up and makes her dream again-he’s a catalyst not a savior. Norah still makes choices, heck yes she has a huge crush because the guy is smoking hot, awkward, and so understanding, but he by no means swoops in and saves her, she fights and makes choices and slowly copes-she’s not cured because that’s totally unrealistic. This is a real, gritty picture of mental illness and how it wreaks havoc on every aspect of the individual’s life.
What I felt the story was missing was more encounters with Norah’s mother, and her therapist. They both are strong women that have a huge presence in Norah’s life and while you get that impression and there are short scenes, I would have loved to see more of the cute interactions with Norah and her mom, and maybe a bit more on what Norah was like before her accident.
The pacing was so-so, but fit for contemporary. There’s definitely a build up in feelings, curiosity, and yearning. The twist near the end was unexpected, but worked well.
Luke and Norah together are made of awkward and silly and smiles and sometimes walking on eggshells, but it’s worth it just to see Norah overcome and work through her illness. They’re so cute together and so weird. Totally endearing and it’s really refreshing that all the instalust and love that have been permeating YA lately is not present.
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