2017 is going to be a stellar year for YA books if Louise Gornall’s Under Rose-Tainted Skies, released yesterday, is any indication. This often heartrending contemporary novel introduces readers to Norah, a young woman who has agoraphobia and OCD. Norah meets her new neighbor, Luke, under less than ideal circumstance: while attempting to fish for groceries left on her porch, without leaving the safety of her house. It’s the first in a series of adorably awkward encounters, as the two slowly get to know each other—and Norah tries to shake her feeling that Luke should instead be hanging out with a “normal” girl. While the romance is full of swoons, Norah’s inner journey is what really makes this story sing. Have some tissues on hand, because here are five ways Gornall’s debut will wreck you in the best way.
1. The authentic representation of mental illness
Under Rose-Tainted Skies is an #ownvoices book, meaning the author has direct, personal experience with her characters’ struggles; in this case, protagonist Norah’s agoraphobia and OCD. She goes to therapy (though sometimes therapy comes to her), frequently experiences panic and anxiety attacks, and has to fight her sickness every day. With the help of her therapist, her mother, and Luke, she starts to challenge herself more, taking small but crucial steps toward finding a healthy place. Gornall masterfully captures the daily struggles that come with mental illness and what it’s like learning to try over and over again. With every rise and fall in Norah’s path, you’ll be reminded that, while every mental illness experience is different, Norah’s life is being told from the perspective of someone who understands what it’s like to have agoraphobia and OCD.
2. The relationship between Norah and her mother
If you’re a fan of mother-daughter teams like Lorelai and Rory from Gilmore Girls, you’ll be in joyful tears after a few conversations between Norah and her mom, who have one of the best rapports I’ve ever read. They make up a small but fiercely strong family, and it’s clear that they will always stick by each other. Throughout the novel, they consistently check in with each other, encourage each other, and work through tough times together. Realistically capturing the parent-child relationship is tricky, but here we have a great example of what it means to have your own private world growing up, but also have a shared, happy connection to a parent.
3. The references for the nerdy at heart
Mentions of Star Wars and Transformers may not seem like a heartbreaker, but if you’re in any fandom, you’ll appreciate the way these references are used to bring people closer. Geeky loves bond not only Norah and Luke, but also Norah and her mom. Fandoms unite people in a special way, creating a sense of community, particularly when leaving the house is difficult. The nerdy references aren’t overdone in this story, but rather have a consistent flow that will bring tears to your eyes as they build a realistic sense of the happiness and fun Norah shares in her life.
4. Norah and Luke’s adorkable romance
While there’s fun to be found in reading about relationships that are flirtatiously smooth and breezy, there’s something especially relatable about romances that have a good dose of awkward. Luke and Norah both have their awkward moments, but they work together so well. They both enjoy horror movies, Transformers, and more, but they also understand each other on an intimate level. As the two learn to have patience with each other and with themselves, you’ll find yourself on board this ship before you know it. Excuse me while I go sob my feels out and doodle their names in my notebook.
5. The powerful sense of hope
Feeling depressed or becoming extremely pessimistic isn’t uncommon for those with mental illness. Sometimes finding any shred of hope is next to impossible. Gornall masterfully explores the dark, dark days mental illness can bring while never having Norah completely lose hope. Norah is knocked down often, but she keeps pushing herself, even if she needs time to regroup. She has to take some days minute by minute, even second by second, and the pain and exhaustion she feels is nearly tangible. However, recovery is absolutely possible, and you’ll be an ocean of emotion as Norah becomes healthier and finds new ways to navigate her life and her illness.