♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ s t a r s
Norah is seventeen years old, and she hasn’t really stepped outside of her house since she was thirteen except for the occasional visit to her therapist. She has agoraphobia, anxiety and OCD, and there are too many things in the outside world that can cause harm – so she stays inside the four walls of her home, her safe haven, where she reads, watches movies, and builds forts and miniature structures from edibles. When the new boy next door starts making an effort to talk to her, Norah feels the pull to step out of her comfort zone. He’s charming, he’s cute, and has a smile that sends tingles down her spine, but Norah, despite wanting to, is terrified of letting him in.
Under Rose-Tainted Skies is as beautiful as the title sounds and the cover looks. Written with fluidity and grace, Gornall weaves words like a mastermind, conveying emotion by employing just the right vocabulary, just the right tone. It’s poetic and lyrical, without ever feeling purple. There’s something incredibly challenging about writing a book set almost entirely within the four walls of one girl’s house, but Gornall’s writing never lets you notice this until you pause, think, and admire the feat. When we think of masterful world-building, we think about fantasy universes with their own continents, governments, schools, magic systems – but the world-building in this book is confined to a house… and it’s just as good as the world-building in the best of fantasy novels. That may seem like a hyperbolic statement to you, but I don’t think it is. The author focuses on micro-details and makes it work- from the texture of Norah’s bedsheets to the contents of her refrigerator, the feel of her hallway and the aura around her windows, everything is precise, polished, and wonderfully done.
But the writing style and the world-building are just two facets of this beautiful tale. Its empathetic portrayal of the relationship between a mother and her daughter, between a young girl and her mentor, her therapist, between a girl and a boy, and this girl and herself – each and every relationship is given the perfect weight, resulting in a wholesome, balanced story that never gets boring, never does too much. Make no mistake – this is not a book about romance, it’s not one about Norah’s therapy, and it’s not a book about her relationships. It’s not a book that uses mental illness as a plot point in any plot mentioned above; it’s a book about a girl with disabilities who’s living her day-to-day life, maneuvering through family, romance and therapy as best as she can. This is what we need in contemporaries. Books that place the person at the forefront, while never ignoring, glamorizing or romanticizing their mental illness.
What makes the story lift and soar are the characters, but most specifically Norah. She’s everything I love in a character – in a human being, in fact. She’s shy and introspective, she doesn’t say much but when she does, she’s smart and funny. Her incredibly empathetic nature, her genuine regard for other people before herself, and her strength and vulnerability make her such a beautiful character. Her voice in moments when she’s vulnerable beyond anything she’s ever known, as well as when she’s navigating daily life, to her desires and hopes and dreams – everything feels so authentic. I felt like I was reading about a friend, and I teared up multiple times, just because I felt so deeply for her. Not pity. NEVER pity, but empathy. This is an empathetic book, not a sympathetic one, and I think it’s meant to be that way.
Luke, also, was such a beautifully constructed character. When he was introduced, I was apprehensive because too often have I seen the trope where falling in love cures mental illnesses, but that apprehension need not have been there. I loved the slow-burn of Luke’s relationship with Norah, because it gave time for Norah to ease into an unfamiliar situation, and acquaint herself with feeling how she felt, and what it would mean for her. I loved Luke’s attitude; instead of giving her unwanted advice, instead of trying to change any part of her life, he sought to learn and understand. He’s not perfect; he makes mistakes, and sometimes I wanted to smack him, but he’s such an incredibly kind, soft person who tries his best to understand, falters along the way, but is determined to learn and straighten himself up. He was given complexities and dilemmas of his own outside of this relationship, and sure, I would have liked to learn more about his family, but I don’t say that as a flaw in the book – it’s actually a compliment, believe it or not.
Because, for the life of me, I did not want it to end. It read like a movie, something playing in front of my eyes, with characters that I loved, adored and wanted to stay with for much, much longer. I wanted it to go on, and I would have happily read on for a couple hundred more pages. Not because it was too short; no, it was the perfect length. I’ve just become so invested in these characters’ lives that I’m craving more, and I don’t think I’ve ever said this for a contemporary stand-alone before. Any stand-alone, in fact.
If you’ve been following my reading and my reviewing for a while now, you’d know that I don’t give out five-star ratings easily. Very rarely do I come across books that I can’t find a flaw in, that I can start over right after finishing them gladly, but this is one of those rarities. It flung itself in my ‘favorites’ list, and I didn’t even realize it until after I’d turned the last page, but here I am: enamored, gushing, and wanting – no – needing more.
Anxiety-inducing scenes, some suicidal ideations, and self-harm.