Chicken House came on my radar recently as they've published critically acclaimed novels such as The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Faceless by Alyssa Sheinmel. They stand apart from so many other young adult and middle grade publishers because their books have kick-ass female protagonists and tackle difficult subjects. Though rather than the topic (mental health in Under Rose-Tainted Skies) taking centre stage, it is the characters that do and the subject just happens to be something that is a part of them.
In Under Rose-Tainted Skies, Norah suffers from agoraphobia and OCD. This means she's afraid to leave the house and that she has the tendency to overthink any given situation into the extreme and she uses harming rituals to calm herself down. Not being able to set a foot outside of her own front door is very confining but Norah has mostly come to terms with how she lives.
That is, until a new boy moves in next door and his unexpected kindness and understanding give Norah a reason to fight against the mental demons that make her life so very tiny. His confidence in her, gives her the strength to try again and again. She finally gets to experience some of the same things other teenagers do and that too gives her that boost to become stronger and overcome the obstacles in her head.
While I've recently read Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne, which also focuses on a character with OCD (an in an incredibly moving and heartwrenching way at that), I had not read a novel about agoraphobia before, YA or adult, and so I was really fascinated by this aspect in Under Rose-Tainted Skies. Not having any personal experience of this anxiety disorder I cannot say with certainty that it was portrayed accurately, but it did feel very realistic and honest to me.
Author Louise Gornall did not gloss over Norah's problems and the devastating effect on the girl both mentally and physically, which made Under Rose-Tainted Skies not an easy book to read at times - but it was an eye-opening and very rewarding one. And though it tackles some very heavy subject matter within its pages, the book never felt too heavy or that I had to put it down because it was emotionally draining. It balanced just perfectly on that edge between poignancy and heartfelt.
Norah, despite her obvious struggles in life, is a very likeable protagonist and one that as a reader you instantly care for. Her raw honesty about her anxieties and the effects on her body and mind were eye-opening and, at times, surprisingly funny, which was a refreshing way of exploring this topic. And then of course there was Luke. Kind, caring, an unexpected beacon in Norah's tiny life I fell in love with him when she did and every moment they spend together I absolutely adored.
Under Rose-Tainted Skies is an important book, there is no doubt about that. But it's also a beautiful one about being a teenager, first love, identity and, yes, mental health too. If there is one novel you pick up this year that covers an important subject not often found in young adult fiction, let it be this one.
Many thanks to the publisher for a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.
Under Rose-Tainted Skies is published by Chicken House and you can buy the novel from Foyles or your own preferred retailer.
Connect with the authorWebsite: bookishblurb.com