ARC #Review: Words on Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton

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Fans of More Happy Than Not, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, andIt’s Kind of a Funny Story will cheer for Adam as he struggles with schizophrenia in this brilliantly honest and unexpectedly funny debut.

Adam has just been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He sees and hears people who aren’t there: Rebecca, a beautiful girl who understands him; the Mob Boss, who harasses him; and Jason, the naked guy who’s unfailingly polite. It should be easy to separate the real from the not real, but Adam can’t.

Still, there’s hope. As Adam starts fresh at a new school, he begins a drug trial that helps him ignore his visions. Suddenly everything seems possible, even love. When he meets Maya, a fiercely intelligent girl, he desperately wants to be the great guy that she thinks he is. But then the miracle drug begins to fail, and Adam will do anything to keep Maya from discovering his secret.

review3/5 Stars 

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Random House Books for Young Readers. 

The best way to describe my feelings towards this book is to shrug. This is a solid 3 star read. As much as I wanted to fall in love with this story of a boy dealing with mental illness as he fell in love with his dream girl, I couldn’t connect. Since I finished reading, I’ve struggled with how to put into words why that connection was missing and it comes down to the plot, or lack there of, or maybe just the whole mundane, guy has secret, clichéd bullies, truth comes out, romance. It was all too familiar. And what irked me even further was the title. It’s catchy, it’s clever, it is barely in the story and while there could have been a serious, philosophical moment with the words, it fell flat, despite attempts to tie it in. And on top of that, it made the plot feel thrown together and nowhere near as cohesive or smooth as it could have been, but perhaps that was the point. 

Here’s what I liked: 

  • I’m not a doctor. What I know about schizophrenia is pretty much the tripe, false portrayals in horror films or TV shows that make it seem like a dangerous, and deadly sickness that turns people into serial killers or something. It’s horrible, inaccurate, and even discussed throughout the story. Especially in relation to Sandy Hook. After the shooting, which happened during the timeline of this book, schizophrenia became something to be scared of. Knowing someone with the mental illness made people panic or at the very least feel apprehensive and on guard. Adam reflects on that and it’s a huge part of why he never confides in his friends about his schizophrenia, because he doesn’t want the looks, the doubts, the slow backing away and dissolution of friendships that has happened to him before out of fear. This is poignant and heartbreaking and a reality that needs to be called out and questioned. The stigma around mental illness and how it is perceived needs to be a discussion and unfortunately, like other timely issues, it is not. How schizophrenia is portrayed in the story may or may not be 100% accurate, the author does put a note in the back of the book addressing this, which I appreciated. Adam’s hallucinations are each unique and reflect parts of himself that he’s not in tune with, parts that he’s scared of or tries to hide and they speak to him, try to guide him through hard choices and situations. They pop in and out of the story. They’re memorable, but fleeting, and some are more solid than others. Adam’s emotions and voice were strong. They were all over the place, but he was honest, his voice never wavered, and at times his letters were like a confession to himself. 
  • The structure. I think this is the only book I’ve read where the entire story is told through journal entries to a therapist. Because of the style, it’s introspective, reflective, and full of genuine voice. You really get a feel for who Adam is, what he’s going through, and his humor about the whole situation. 
  • Love doesn’t save the day. So many times illness or some perceived flaw is solved simply by falling in love. It’s become a dangerous trope. I liked that at the end of this story, nothing was really resolved or fixed because mental illness is not something that magically disappears because feelings trump everything. Drugs can help manage, but they fail, they lose effectiveness, and sometimes the side effects are life threatening. Maya is great for Adam, don’t get me wrong. She listens to him. She befriends him when he felt so alone and scared on his journey and she sticks by him when things get weird. What more could you ask for? 

Here’s what didn’t work for me:

  • The pacing, the plot. I was bored and what’s weird is that I shouldn’t have been. So many scenes were of your run of the mill, everyday life and while Adam’s perception and snarky comments were entertaining, the incidents themselves were not. 
  • The enemy. The popular kids. The hot guy. So overdone and while there is some redemption it just didn’t do justice to the story. It was all too predictable. You could see that plot point coming from the moment you met the popular guy with connections because that’s always the choice. I was hoping for something more unexpected because of the subject matter but I guess the popular kids will always be evil bullies. 
  • I wasn’t sold on Maya or Dwight. They were just…sort of there. Dwight especially has few scenes and while those scenes do give you a better picture of him, it feels like filler. For Maya…the emotions were, and this could definitely be because of the style, lacking. Because everything is told from Adam’s POV, how Maya really feels like seen through his gaze and it makes her feel aloof.

Keep reading,

Jordan

 

 

Guest Post & Giveaway: What I Lost by Alexandra Ballard

WHAT I LOSTWhat I Lost (1)Amazon/B&N/TBD/iBooks/Goodreads

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What sixteen-year-old Elizabeth has lost so far: forty pounds, four jean sizes, a boyfriend, and her peace of mind. As a result, she’s finally a size zero. She’s also the newest resident at Wallingfield, a treatment center for girls like her—girls with eating disorders. Elizabeth is determined to endure the program so she can go back home, where she plans to start restricting her food intake again.She’s pretty sure her mom, who has her own size-zero obsession, needs treatment as much as she does. Maybe even more. Then Elizabeth begins receiving mysterious packages. Are they from her ex-boyfriend, a secret admirer, or someone playing a cruel trick?

This eloquent debut novel rings with authenticity as it follows Elizabeth’s journey to taking an active role in her recovery, hoping to get back all that she lost.

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EXCLUSIVE DELETED SCENE

We had a new therapist for music therapy on Thursday. Her name was Sunny and she wore a long, drapey skirt made from a blue tapestry and smelled like incense. She didn’t look much older than me and wore at least ten silver bracelets on her right arm that clinked together whenever she moved.

We sat on the carpeted floor as classical music played. I think it was supposed to calm us.

“Okay, guys. Close your eyes and feel the music,” Sunny said, her eyes wide. “What does it bring up? What do you see? What do you remember? Write down anything that comes to you.”  

I looked over at Willa. She was drawing big huge scribbles. She grinned at me and scrawled “Suck suck suck suck suck this sucks” in big angry letters. She giggled. I drew flowers. Perfectly symmetrical flowers. If one wasn’t perfect, I scribbled it out.

 Sunny had turned and was scrolling through iTunes, her back to us. Right when I thought Willa was going to rip a hole in her paper, Madonna blasted through the speakers hanging from all four corners of the room. I jumped.

The music was old, some song from the eighties or nineties where Madonna kept singing “celebrate! It will be all right!” It was the sort of song Mom would squeal over and sing along to. The girls and I just sat there confused. Sunny couldn’t want us to dance, could she?

Sunny spun around, skirt twirling, and saw us sitting there like statues. “Well, move, guys!”

Was this a trap? A way to get us all to drink an Ensure? No one budged. We weren’t supposed to “move.” Anything beyond necessary walking was strictly prohibited.

“Come on guys! Listen to the beat! Move with the music!” She swayed in the front of the room, and every time she waved her arms we could smell patchouli.

I stared at the floor, willing someone else to go first. I did not want to have to drink an Ensure. That’s what happened if they caught you running or exercising around here.

Still, my toes bumped to the beat. Madonna was sort of contagious.

Celebra-ate! It will be all right!

Finally, Jean, who everyone called a “lifer” because she’d already been at the hospital for nine months, stood up and started to wiggle her butt, just a little. Willa jumped up next, and I followed. Soon all eight of us were on our feet, laughing, moving, wiggling, jumping, dancing like—what is that cheesy quote that is always showing up on cards and magnets? —oh yeah, like nobody was watching.  Ally, a girl from Manhattan whose parents visited every week, started to moonwalk. We hooted and cheered. I laughed and felt something inside me crack open. For the first time in a long time, I felt normal, like I could be in my basement dancing with my friends Katrina, Priya, and Shay, like the last few months had never happened.  

And then, without warning, the music disappeared, like a needle ripped from a record. We froze. A disapproving Nurse Jill stood next to Sunny, who looked ashamed, like a kid caught playing in her mother’s closet. We stood there, panting, Ally’s face red from her crazy moves.

“Lunch time,” Nurse Jill said. The frown lines in her already wrinkled cheeks deepened.

giveaway

3 winners will receive a finished copy of WHAT I LOST, US Only.

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Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram

Alexandra Ballard has worked as a magazine editor, middle-school English teacher, freelance writer, and cake maker. She holds master’s from both Columbia (journalism) and Fordham (education) and spent ten years in the classroom, beginning in the Bronx and ending up in the hills of California. Today she writes full time and lives in the Bay Area with her husband, two daughters, and two dogs. What I Lost is Alexandra’s first novel.

OTHER STOPS ON THE TOUR 

Week Two:

6/5/2017- Lisa Loves Literature- Review

6/6/2017- YA Book Madness- Guest Post

6/7/2017- The Cover Contessa- Interview

6/8/2017- Book Briefs- Review

6/9/2017- A Gingerly Review- Review

Keep reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: Violet Grenade by Victoria Scott

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DOMINO: A girl with blue hair and a demon in her mind.

CAIN: A stone giant on the brink of exploding.

MADAM KARINA: A woman who demands obedience.

WILSON: The one who will destroy them all.

When Madam Karina discovers Domino in an alleyway, she offers her a position inside her home for entertainers in secluded West Texas. Left with few alternatives and an agenda of her own, Domino accepts. It isn’t long before she is fighting her way up the ranks to gain the madam’s approval. But after suffering weeks of bullying and unearthing the madam’s secrets, Domino decides to leave. It’ll be harder than she thinks, though, because the madam doesn’t like to lose inventory. But then, Madam Karina doesn’t know about the person living inside Domino’s mind. Madam Karina doesn’t know about Wilson.

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3.5/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Entangled.

+++Some scenes might be triggers for assault and/or violence

Violet Grenade is unexpected. It’s dark and twisted, sinister and honest and raw. There’s so much going on in here, so much pain and torment, so much that is unfair. 

THINGS I LIKED:

  • Domino believes she’s a monster. She has a past that will make your skin crawl and you’ll feel more than a little sick to your stomach when the truth comes out. There’s just enough to keep you on edge. Throughout the book, there are hints, little flashes of information that are gripping, blunt, and brutal. The need to know becomes a compulsion. I HAD TO KNOW. The scars on her arms, why Wilson manifested, the foreboding and constant allusions to an ugly and unforgivable past. Victoria Scott is an expert at building anticipation. It gets under your skin. 
  • A different portrayal of trafficking and extortion. Many times we think of trafficking as young girls or boys being abducted and forced into servitude/usually sexual in nature. What doesn’t get talked about enough is how people of specific walks of life are targeted and manipulated, they’re sold on an idea of a better life and before they know it, they can’t escape. Domino, like many of the other flowers, was homeless. She was vulnerable and a target. It’s not hard to persuade someone who rarely has a roof over their head or food to eat to go with someone at the prospect of safety, making money, a home, or even love. Madam Karina is the worst kind of villain because she’s real. She’s walking the streets right now. Her, and others like her, are predators. While Madam Karina has her own demons that make her the psychologically messed up person she is, she’s smart, she’s vindictive, and calculated. She makes these decisions, she knows what she’s doing, and that is inexcusable. 
  • The romance. Domino and Cain are beautifully broken but complete each other. They both had monstrous demons like guilt and fear that eat away at their souls, but inside, they’re good people who want nothing more than to be loved. Their romance is a slow-building realization. It’s imperfect and complicated. It’s right for them. 

THINGS I DISLIKED:

  • The pacing. This book felt a good hundred pages longer than it actually was because of how slow it read. It took time to really get into. The introduction to Domino and her life on the streets was intriguing, but kind of dull. The only things that save this section are the potential love interest with Dizzy and the hints at her past, that this horrible life is so much better than the one she escaped from. Then the shift happens. After Domino enters Madam Karina’s household, despite all of Domino’s plans, ambitions, and woes, it drags. Not much is going on. Each shift to the next flower level felt pretty much the same despite different dynamics and different girls. 
  • The lack of back story. Here’s the thing: the back story is there, sure. You get bare bones glimpses of what Domino’s life was like as a child and sure, it’s understandable because Wilson has blocked those memories from her so that she can live her life without constantly being haunted by the guilt and gore. That’s fine. When things are revealed about the seriously twisted and disgusting actions that Domino was coerced into doing, I mean, wow. MESSED UP. However, why her mother went off the handle, what her relationship was like with her mother that made the manipulation work so well, any moments with her father…it’s missing. There’s like this gaping black hole of stuff that the reader can fill in or guess about but it’s not enough to 100% embrace the emotions Domino felt towards her mother or even the anger. She blames herself, but what about her mother? What happened? There are so many unanswered questions. 

THINGS I’M TORN OVER:

  • How dissociative identity disorder was presented. Domino’s other identity-Wilson-is the result of PTSD and a coping mechanism for all of the horrific (truly, messed up scary stuff) she was forced to participate in as a child. Wilson is a protector, he’s loving and defensive, and flips out, goes off the handle and is way prone to violence. Domino is scared of him. She tries to keep him under lock and key because when he comes out, bad things happen and sometimes he takes total control. At the same time, Wilson is a friend. He’s been there for her, he never leaves like everyone else has in her life, and at the end, there’s a bittersweet moment that really makes you feel torn about Wilson. Ultimately for me, despite the insane and sadistic choices he makes, he’s a sort of savior for Domino that helps her realize that she is enough, that she can get through anything on her own. I wasn’t necessarily happy with this relationship between the two, but I didn’t hate it either. Wilson grows on you. And when he takes over, well, it’s definitely memorable and a little sickening. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Keep reading, 

Jordan

Exclusive Interview with Victoria Scott on Violet Grenade

violet-grenade-coverGoodreads/Amazon/B&N/Book Depository/Indie Bound

Release Date: May 16, 2017

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DOMINO: A girl with blue hair and a demon in her mind.

CAIN: A stone giant on the brink of exploding.

MADAM KARINA: A woman who demands obedience.

WILSON: The one who will destroy them all.

When Madam Karina discovers Domino in an alleyway, she offers her a position inside her home for entertainers in secluded West Texas. Left with few alternatives and an agenda of her own, Domino accepts. It isn’t long before she is fighting her way up the ranks to gain the madam’s approval. But after suffering weeks of bullying and unearthing the madam’s secrets, Domino decides to leave. It’ll be harder than she thinks, though, because the madam doesn’t like to lose inventory. But then, Madam Karina doesn’t know about the person living inside Domino’s mind.

Madam Karina doesn’t know about Wilson.

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YABM: Violet Grenade is a little different than your other books, what inspired this story? 

Victoria: I kept thinking about girls who get attacked, and what it would look like if someone targeted a girl who was capable of killing a man. How glorious that scene would be to watch in a movie. This idea of a small girl with a deadly secret wouldn’t leave my mind until I put her on paper. 

YABM: How would you describe Violet Grenade to a reader in 3 or less sentences? 

Victoria: I’d simply say it’s a story about manipulation, revenge, damaged characters, and love found in unlikely places. Oh, and multiple personalities (Dissociative Identity Disorder).

YABM: What do you want the reader to take away from Violet Grenade?

Victoria: Always, always…entertainment. I never seek to achieve anything besides giving readers an escape from reality. What they find outside of that is unique to their own journey and experiences.

YABM: Give me a brief rundown of Madam Karina’s Home for Burgeoning Entertainers? What is it like?


Victoria: The girls who live there are sorted by silk flowers they wear on their dresses or blouses. It ranks them, and signifies how much of their earnings they actually keep. Those flowers keep the girls competitive. And of course it’s symbolic of losing a certain something. *wink*

YABM: Is there any romance brewing between characters?

Victoria: Oh, yes. Domino and Cain have chemistry, but mostly they share past wounds.

YABM: Which character would be most likely to survive a zombie apocalypse?

Victoria: Cain. Those zombies wouldn’t stand a chance.

YABM: How do you balance home, life, and writing (and your adorable little girl)?

Victoria: With great difficulty! Even as I finish this interview I’m thinking how I didn’t get enough time with my little girl tonight. Le sigh.

YABM: What would you tell aspiring writers? What’s your best advice for completing that draft?

Victoria: To just power through! Trust me, we all think our first drafts stink. If you do too, then you just might be a published author one day. Ha!

authorVictoria Scott Author Photo copyWebsite/Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/Goodreads

Victoria Scott is the acclaimed author of eight books for young adults. Her most recent release, Titans, received two starred reviews, and Fire & Flood is a 2017 Spirit of Texas Reading Program book. Victoria’s novels are sold in fourteen different countries, and she loves receiving reader emails from across the world. You can find her online at VictoriaScott.com.

Check back closer to release date for my review. 

As always, happy reading!

Jordan

 

ARC Review: Beautiful Broken Girls by Kim Savage

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Release Date: Feb 21, 2017

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Mira and Francesca Cillo—beautiful, overprotected, odd—seemed untouchable. But Ben touched seven parts of Mira: her palm, hair, chest, cheek, lips, throat, and heart. After the sisters drown themselves in the quarry lake, a post-mortem letter from Mira sends Ben on a quest to find notes in the seven places where they touched. Note by note, Ben discovers the mystical secret at the heart of Mira and Francesca’s world, and that some things are better left untouched.

review2/5 Stars 

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

+++Potential triggers for: sexual abuse, death/loss, suicide

Beautiful Broken Girls is the kind of book you tilt your head and look at sideways, puzzled and perplexed, trying to figure out what happened and how it evolved into what it did. Unfortunately for me, even when the mystery unraveled, there were so many questions left unanswered that I was at a loss for what to make of this bizarre story.

When I initially saw this cover, I knew I had to have it. It’s creepy and unsettling. It looks like something out of a horror film, so that’s kind of what I expected when I opened the book. This is not that kind of story. At its core, Beautiful Broken Girls is a mystery and an ode to learning to cope after a horrible tragedy, and for Ben, after a lost first love. 

The story is told from multiple characters (Mira, Francesca, and Ben) and takes place in two different years. The pieces are not in order and are further separated by body parts that Ben touched on Mira when they were seeing each other. If it sounds strange, that’s because it is. The idea itself is an interesting one. Getting to each note that Mira left for Ben was like a nostalgic scavenger hunt as he relived the sensual moments he had with Mira as they feel for each other. What the notes meant and getting to the truth propelled the story forward, even when the pacing was excessively slow. 

I made guesses throughout the story about what really happened to the dead girls; I suggest trying this and seeing if you guessed right. I did, to an extent. As the story evolves and the clues are found-in the form of Mira’s cryptic little poem snippets-Ben makes a whirlwind of assumptions. It’s hard to talk about this book without giving anything away and I HATE spoilers. One of the first things you learn about Ben, is that he was molested as a child in little league. So he’s known as touched or damaged. There is so much wrong with this, but I digress. Apart from the fact that this is used as a device by others in the story so that Ben is doubted and seen as projecting his past on the situation, it didn’t really function in the story and threw me off as a story arc. It felt like so many elements of this book were jumbled and thrown in and never really came together to form a coherent narrative. 

One of my major issues was with voice. Ben, the other boys, Mira, basically everyone in the story, despite being set in 2015-2016, felt like they were using language from the 80s or 90s. Maybe even before that. It could be the setting and maybe those phrases are abundant and natural there, but to me, it felt off. Some phrases are crude and made me feel slimy, and other times, it felt like things were thrown in to emphasize that they were teenage boys, whether they were realistic or not. You’re introduced to a lot of characters at once. It took a bit for them to develop into their own people, it was hard to distinguish them at first because of how they were introduced. 

I labeled this with a mental illness tag because of some of the descriptions of Mira and the actions of Francesca (which I can’t really go into without spoilers). But Mira has some disturbing imagery attached to her and her thoughts that make you question her…though somehow nowhere near the way you do Francesca and Mira almost functioned as a secondary character-her voice, her personality, the romance, none of it was emphasized or clear. Mira flitted in and out of the story and there are brief interludes of memory, but other than that, she fades away-ghostly. Back to the point, these thoughts, like wanting to drink toxic chemicals or throw herself off a cliff are dangerous, reckless, borderline suicidal and very disturbing, and yet, they’re just there. Not really deliberated over or anything and it makes you wonder why even put them there other than to show that Mira was messed up too. 

I wasn’t invested in the characters, I was invested in the mystery. The need to know what happened was enough. However, that ending, the truth, the reveal, what about all of the other stuff? Was it real? Was it a psychological issue? So many questions. If you’re looking for something weird, something that when you finish reading you’ll question what you just read, then check this out. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Mysterious reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom

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Release Dare: February 7, 2017

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In the vein of It’s Kind of a Funny Story and All the Bright Places, comes a captivating, immersive exploration of life with mental illness.

For sixteen-year-old Mel Hannigan, bipolar disorder makes life unpredictable. Her latest struggle is balancing her growing feelings in a new relationship with her instinct to keep everyone at arm’s length. And when a former friend confronts Mel with the truth about the way their relationship ended, deeply buried secrets threaten to come out and upend her shaky equilibrium.

As the walls of Mel’s compartmentalized world crumble, she fears the worst–that her friends will abandon her if they learn the truth about what she’s been hiding. Can Mel bring herself to risk everything to find out?

In A Tragic Kind of Wonderful, Eric Lindstrom, author of the critically acclaimed Not If I See You First, examines the fear that keeps us from exposing our true selves, and the courage it takes to be loved for who we really are.

review3/5 Stars 

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

PROS:

  • There was so much to learn from this book. Mental health isn’t talked about anywhere near as much as it should be. There’s a complex system of animals Mel uses to illustrate her moods/how she’s feeling, which you might want to write down for reference throughout, because it is a little hard and confusing to keep track of. As far as I know (I’m not an expert), this is a poignant and realistic portrayal of the mental and physical highs and lows experienced by someone who is bipolar. It was an awakening for me as a reader, because I haven’t read many books with this mental illness. It brought keen insight into the disorder and how the individual’s thinking and feeling change, how they react, and the medicine cabinet full of medication that some who suffer from this disorder live with everyday. I think a big part of this story was trying to show how normal mental illness can appear to an outsider or someone who doesn’t know. There was a bunch of terminology I had no clue about and I was pretty startled by the idea of subintentional suicide; I’d never heard of that before. Generally when we think of people who make dangerous choices it’s in a oh, what a daredevil kind of way, but this was truly eye-opening for me, and in connection to bipolar disorder. I am still reeling. 
  • I adored HJ (Hurricane Joan). She’s this feisty, sassy aunt, who like Mel, has bipolar disorder. She’s super fun and full of energy, and while she does have her down times, she has such a strong presence. 
  • Mel was an intriguing character. She wasn’t particularly interesting, but she was compassionate, giving, a genuinely good person. Her emotions were a dizzying spiral of highs and lows, ups and downs, and very raw, honest. Her confusion and fear are clear, even if she doesn’t understand why she feels the way she does or how she’s going to react. Mel is trying to cope with her disorder, not beat it or pretend that it doesn’t exist. Mel believes she can be like a “normal” person and that in order to do so, she needs to lie. Why Mel insists on all the lies is revealed in time, but it doesn’t always feel like it was necessary. 
  • Mel and David are cute together. They’re blunt and challenge each other. He is the only one that she is completely truthful with and where she can be the most herself. They’re funny, playful, and have an easy way with each other that feels meant to be.

CONS:

  • A Tragic Kind of Wonderful is split into flashbacks and current events. There are two storylines, one regarding the time before diagnosis and another after. These stories mix and mingle with each other and I wasn’t entirely sold on how it was set up. They way these two narratives were presented made the pacing feel staggered. You feel like you wait forever to things that are alluded to from the very beginning-like why her friendship with Zumi and Conner is on the outs. The whole book you wait for this reveal and it’s built up so much that you expect it to be something world-shattering and terrible, and while it is a betrayal, when you know the reasons why, it’s like, oh, shrug. Other reveals, like what happened to her brother and the mystery about her name, were a little frustrating, but once you understand that they took so long to get to because Mel couldn’t safely, emotionally process them, it’s okay. 
  • All of the characters except for David and Mel and HJ and most of the elderly people-let me fix this, most of the teen characters were antisocial, withdrawn, and even with the flashbacks, didn’t have much personality. The connection between them and Mel was supposedly so strong that it emotionally paralyzes her to think about it, and yet, that feeling does not carry through the book, it’s more talked about than actually illustrated. Most of the story, I questioned why Mel even cared that these people were no longer in her life, she had replacements in the form of Holly and Declan, who were similar enough to the original friends that they were kind of forgettable. Had there been more interaction with ANY of these friends, a stronger establishment between characters would have been made and it would have been easier to become emotionally invested. Again, I think this had a lot to do with how the book was organized. 
  • I wish there had been more flashbacks to Mel and her brother. I felt like the focus was skewed. So much emphasis was placed on the loss of these friends she made after her brother’s death, when his loss is the root of so much of her hurt. 

SIDE NOTE: I would not compare this to All the Bright Places in terms of writing style, but thematically, sure. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Informative reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

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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.

review

3.5/5 Stars

***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. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Insightful reading,

Jordan