I’ve finally found it. A book about mental illness that doesn’t a) romanticise mental illness, b) ignore actual ways of treating mental illness like therapy and medication, or c) have the character overcome her mental illness because of the healing power of love.
Norah suffers from a myriad of mental illnesses, including agoraphobia and OCD, and has barely left her house in years. But when her mom has to go away for the weekend for work, and the Helping Hands guy leaves all Norah’s groceries on the porch, out of reach, she’s helped, embarrassingly enough, by her new neighbor, Josh. And then Josh keeps coming back to chat.
There’s so much to love about this book. First of all, its portrayal of anxiety. Under Rose-Tainted Skies is an “own voices” novel, with author Louise Gornall putting a lot of her own experiences into the novel, and it really shows. The racing, escalating thoughts. The oh-so-convincing irrationality of it. It’s so convincing and realistic and makes Norah incredibly sympathetic. It’s so convincing, in fact, that I would warn readers with anxiety to be cautious while reading, as it pulls you into Norah’s anxiety attacks with her.
Under Rose-Tainted Skies is a romance, but the relationship is also great. Josh is sympathetic and understanding, but he still makes mistakes. And although Norah likes him a lot, but that isn’t enough to inspire her to “get over” her problems.
Ultimately, this is a story of baby steps. It’s a story of getting better, but a reasonable amount for the course of the book, and one that’s grounded in Norah, not Josh.
Spoilers (highlight to read): by the end of the book, Norah is able to start taking SSRIs (something that isn’t inspired by Josh), and hold his hand (as long as she’s sure he’s washed it first). But she still needs to repeat the last step of the stairs to make sure she descends an even number of times, and they finish the book taking a field trip to her therapist, not to the park. She’s at the beginning of recovery, improving, but with a long road ahead.
I really, really recommend this one. If you’re looking for a good representation of mental illness in YA, this is the book to try.