Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall [Review]: A Story With Heart

Jennifer’s Thoughts:

It took little time for me to take this book and start reading it the moment it arrived in my mailbox, and from there on, I was instantly hooked.

Louise Gornall’s writes from the heart and from experience, while also creating this fantastic and relatable character you will feel and care deeply about. Norah has Agoraphobia and OCD, two mental illnesses that have kept her inside her own house for years, and might keep her there forever. Then she meets her new neighbor, Luke, who sees beyond her mental health, tries to understand her for who she is while also seeing Norah in a new way she hadn’t considered before.

The thing that resonated with me the most about Norah were her thoughts. As I read, I would honestly question myself because of how I saw myself reflected in her throughout most of the book. Though I understood that, as humans, we can get obsessive about things. But there are also people that, for medical reasons, go beyond that and need professional help to manage it, which would be OCD. This book is not a manual for that, but it does let the reader know about how this is like other sicknesses, the differences in cases, and to always seek help if you think you might need it, be it from a family member, a friend, and/or professionals.

“In the twenty seconds it’s taken her to get from top to bottom, I’ve watched her trip and break her neck eight times,”(21-22).
“Like a toddler tugging on my apron strings, it’s demanding, forcing me to think about everything,” (85).

These quotes are examples of things I’ve thought and felt, though through the book we’re able to see how these affect Norah to a deeper and broader level in all aspects of her life, and how she manages it or tries to. She’s sassy, incredibly smart, caring for her mom, a fighter in her own way, and a dreamer, despite the limitations her mental illnesses may present her daily. She was a fully flesh-and-bones character that I wanted to protect from the world.

“The beyond-your-control speech is my least favorite of all pep talks. It’s the hardest one to corrupt. It’s immortal, the adamantium of arguments,” (78).

What also made this book an incredibly enjoyable read was the author creative use of language. Writing advice usually tells you to avoid using clichés in your writing, and Louise Gornall’s book is the best example for this. She describes the most simple of things in poetic and imaginative ways that can have you laughing, crying, cringing, horrified, amazed, or all, with vivid imagery that will jump from the page.

“The potbellied grelim known as panic,” (28)
“But New Boy Next Door, Luke, is like an unwanted relative, always showing up at the most inopportune times. I miss the days when I could have a panic attack in peace,” (51)

I only have one minor concern towards the ending of the book that might be a spoiler, though I will refrain from giving any specific details. There is a common unhealthy misconception that some mental illnesses and traumas can be cured by “smiling more”, “give it time as this is just phase”, or, how it’s seen in the book, putting the character in a life-or-death situation to have her overcome her OCD and Agoraphobia. I understand this was probably not the purpose of the author, as (Spoiler Alert) Norah doesn’t get magically cured, but it is somehow implied that she needed that particular push for her to finally take the final decision to treat her illnesses with pills and therapy. She was already attending therapy and was somehow getting to an end to treat certain things, but the main cataclysm didn’t bode well with me as it’s part of the stigma that surrounds mental illnesses, and thus keep promoting them somehow.

Again, I understand this was probably not the author’s intention, and I also understand that it is a possible scenario in real life, plus it is somehow mended in the epilogue with the character’s overall engagement and final resolution (which I love GREATLY <3). Personally, I suspected it would happen, even if it didn’t seem to fit with the overall dynamic of the book when you throw some action into a mostly emotional/romantic book. I didn’t mind it much, though I kept thinking “This is probably not real, this is made up. Oh holy shit, Norah has lost her mind no no no,” which left me with something like whiplash when this life-or-death situation turns out to be true. I guess it had to do because it didn’t quite fit with the rest, and again, what I mentioned above.

However, with that tiny glib out of the way, the rest of this book was amazing and loved to bits. I had been looking forward to reading it since last year and I’m glad I finally did. This is an #ownvoices book for mental illness representation, which I thought was incredibly great as it made Norah’s voice and experience come out from the page even stronger, which I’m sure many will be able to identify with ❤

Overall, this has been one of my favorite Romance Contemporary reads this year. With great family relationships (go great moms!), cute romantic moments, fighting fights, positive mental illness rep… Definitely, the kind of book to read on your commute or as you wait for class to start (guilty of this).

Rating: 4 stars

Marianne’s Thoughts:

Under Rose-Tainted Skies is an #ownvoices narrative about a girl with OCD and agoraphobia falling in love with the boy next door. However, what makes this book different is that it doesn’t use love as a cure and it provides and honest look into mental illness.

What I liked:

  • Norah is our protagonist and her narrative voice is really fresh and compelling. She’s humorous and sarcastic, but also very vulnerable and relatable. While I don’t have Norah’s illnesses, I could easily understand her fears and insecurities. It was interesting seeing things from her perspective, because while her thoughts were obsessive or compulsive, it was easy to put yourself in her shoes. I know the media has these misconceptions about what it’s like to have OCD or agoraphobia, but Norah’s thoughts could have easily been my own. This book does what popular media fails to do, and it’s that it normalizes mental illness. Yes, Norah has these invisible disabilities, but she’s not defined by them. She has compulsions and obsessions, but she also loves movies and books and lives a  “normal” life (whatever that means), like we all do.
  • The romance between Luke and Norah is great. Like I said at the beginning, this isn’t a “love cures all” type of romance. We see Luke and Norah be friends, and we see their friendship develop over time. I really enjoyed their friendship together because Luke was always very considerate of Norah and he never tried to push her boundaries. He tried his best to understand her, and when he couldn’t, he was open to listening. The romance between them is sweet and innocent, and it’s exactly the kind of romance that I love reading about.
  • Norah has a great relationship with her mother. Her mom is so understanding and comprehensive. She always supported Norah and understood her better than anyone else. They had great communication and it was great to see such a strong bond between them. Norah had such a great support system at hand.
  • Speaking of support, Norah sees a therapist. This book is very therapy-positive, which is always great when dealing with books about mental illness. Norah’s therapist is sweet and perfectly knows how to talk with her, in a way that never makes her feel bad or uncomfortable. This book made it clear that while therapy isn’t a cure-all, it does indeed help, and that it was absolutely necessary.
  • I listened to the audio of this book, and I really loved the narrator’s voice. She put on a great performance, and really captured my attention.

What I did not like:

Honestly, the only thing I didn’t really like was the ending. I don’t want to get into many details, but basically, the book had mostly a funny romantic contemporary vibe, but the ending felt sudden. Out of nowhere, the tone shifts into almost a criminal thriller. This whole thing ends in [spoiler]Norah leaving her house in panic because someone broke in, and it didn’t sit right with me because it was almost as if it was saying “to get over your agoraphobia all you have to do is wait for someone to break into your house so you can leave in a panicked frenzy”. I’m not trying to discredit the author or their experiences, but I didn’t like the idea of a traumatic moment being the catalyst for Norah leaving her house.[/spoiler] However, the book corrects it a bit later on by making it clear that Norah isn’t magically cured, which I really appreciated.

However, the rest of the book is completely amazing. The way it talks about mental illness and makes it clear that therapy and support is needed is really great. There’s a sweet romance, and a great support system for the MC. I recommend this book, but I highly suggest you read through the content/trigger warnings before you do.

Content Warnings: Self-Harm, Panic/Anxiety Attacks, Depression


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