contemporary · review · young adult

Under Rose-Tainted Skies – Louise Gornall

“The best you can hope for is to contain it, make it as small as possible so it stops being intrusive. Am I coping? Yes, but it’s taking a monumental amount of effort to keep the dynamite inside my stomach from exploding.”

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Blurb: “Agoraphobia confines Norah to the house she shares with her mother.
For her, the outside is sky glimpsed through glass, or a gauntlet to run between home and car. But a chance encounter on the doorstep changes everything: Luke, her new neighbour. Norah is determined to be the girl she thinks Luke deserves: a ‘normal’ girl, her skies unfiltered by the lens of mental illness. Instead, her love and bravery opens a window to unexpected truths…”

In the autumn of 2014 I was diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder and it felt like such a relief to finally find a doctor who believed what I was going through. I wanted to see anxiety discussed more within books, especially Young Adult, as there’s still so much stigma around mental illness. Surprisingly, it’s quite hard to find books that accurately depict what it is like living with anxiety and I was pointed in the direction of Under Rose-Tainted Skies.

The story follows a girl called Norah who has agoraphobia, OCD, Anxiety and spends her life living within the safety of her home. She frequently sees her therapist, Dr Reeves and has a mother who bends over backwards to look after her. One day, a new boy called Luke moves in next door and the story takes off from there.

I really didn’t want this to be one of those “cute boy cures mental illness” stories and from very early on it started to lean that way. Luke is a very forward boy: coming over to introduce himself, offering to drive Norah to school (after she lies that she goes to public school and accidently names the one he attends) which naturally makes her curious about getting to know him. However, over the length of the novel it didn’t feel like a realistic balance of the process of a relationship while one of the partners deals with severe anxiety. There were points in the narrative where Norah even talks about how “weird” she used to be as if the issues she faces every day have suddenly evaporated. As someone who is in a long term relationship and deals with anxiety every day, it just felt hurtful at times that she seemed to flick it off like a switch in certain situations. She uses Luke, in a way, as a goal to aim for in improving her life which is brilliant to see but falls flat in the actions.

She lays out boundaries that she doesn’t want Noah to cross but inevitably does and leads to a messy outcome which angered me. However, he did go on to fully research agoraphobia, anxiety, OCD and how to help someone you know dealing with any of those and comes back to Norah and mentions some of the things he learnt which is really good character growth.

The other characters I really liked were, as mentioned earlier, the mother who has quit several jobs in order to be flexible so that she can look after her daughter. Good mothers are something I feel is rarely seen in Young Adult so it was great to see a YA novel showcasing a mother who really does want the best for their child. The therapist, Dr Reeves, was wonderful, insightful, and understanding; even going as far as to conduct a therapy session in a car outside the building because Norah is too afraid to leave it.

I came out of this reading experience feeling depleted. So many other bloggers had recommended this book to me and sung its praises that I felt almost as if I’d missed the point. But I couldn’t get past the message that in some aspects it showed that maybe your mental health problems can be solved simply by meeting a boy.

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young adult

Paperweight – Meg Haston

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Blurb: “Seventeen-year-old Stevie is trapped in her life. In her body. And now in a treatment centre on the outskirts of the New Mexico desert. Life in the centre is regimented and intrusive – a nightmare come true for private and obstinate Stevie. She doesn’t want to get better – she wants to disappear. And if things go her way, in twenty-seven days she’ll do exactly that.”

I came across this book on Epic Reads’ Most Anticipated July Books. I’ve been looking for more Young Adult books that tackle mental illness. So when I saw this on the list, I decided to buy it.

The novel opens with seventeen year old Stevie being driven to a treatment centre for an unknown reason. As the plot progresses, it is revealed that Stevie has an eating disorder, has been admitted to the treatment centre by her dad, and she is counting down to some “anniversary.” Stevie arrives at the centre which is described as more of a summer camp in appearance. Stevie is assigned a cottage which she will share with other girls and meets her therapist, Anna, lovingly labelled “shrink” throughout the novel by Stevie.

This is a hard review for me to write because for the first time ever, I cannot decide whether I liked a book or not.

That’s not to say it’s a terrible book,  because it isn’t. There are many qualities that make this book great. I believe that it is very important to have books in Young Adult that tackle mental illness. Not only to help those going through the issues to find solace, but to give those who don’t, a little bit of education so that they are more understanding and able to help anyone they may know going through them. The topic of eating disorders was handled delicately and very well in this book.  It was also a very easy read, I managed to get through it in two sittings.

The Shrink – Anna – was a fantastic character who went above and beyond for Stevie. She never pushed Stevie too much but just enough to make her want to start addressing her issues. Anna made me think about all the therapists out there who work with young people, and how they are not recognized enough for the fantastic work they do every single day.

There was a lot more mystery than I expected and the information was dealt out slowly.For example, the event the caused Stevie to develop this disorder and what this big “anniversary” is that she’s constantly addressing in the narrative.  It keeps you very interested, which was probably why it didn’t take me too long to read.

However, we come to the reason why I’m at a loss as to whether I actually enjoyed this book or not. Stevie is a horrifically unlikable character. It’s understandable that she’s volatile because she doesn’t want to be in the treatment centre, being in the centre interferes with her plans for the anniversary and she doesn’t want help. Stevie is so nasty in the narrative when she talks about the other girls in the centre. Everyone who’s a patient at the centre has a wristband of one of three colours.

Red = Bad
Yellow = improving but still resistant
Green= Good, well on the path to recovery

Stevie is very judgmental of the girls based on the colour of their wristbands. A section of narrative is focused on a “yellow girl” whom Stevie labels a “failure” and criticises her physicality, a “green girl” who is larger than the other is labelled “pathetic” and fat shamed, and a “red girl” who has feeding tubes attached to her is labelled “weak” and judged for not hiding her eating disorder well enough. These aspects of Stevie’s character made it really hard for me to feel sympathetic for her when more of her back story is revealed, especially the cause of her eating disorder and the mysterious anniversary.

My dear readers, I am at a loss.
I am so mixed about this book.
Would I recommend it? Re-read it?
I honestly can’t give an answer.

Let me know if you’ve read it and whether you felt the same!

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