Two Mental Health Issue-led YA novels…

Today, I have two slightly shorter reviews for you of YA novels that explore similar themes:

Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

Rose TaintedThe pink cover (available in three shades actually, going from medium to full-on shocking pink) does this novel no favours at all. Concentrate instead on the gilded cage and the heart that doesn’t dare to go out of the open door.

It starts with an annoying blackbird tapping at the window:

The blackbird catches my eye. It hasn’t budged. Bet it knew I would be back. I slam my fist into the window and shout, ‘Boo!’ It shrieks and takes to the skies. I smile. Throw it a sarcastic five-fingered sayonara wave. It’s a small but satisfying victory.

Then I see a boy through my window. He’s stopped halfway up the garden path and is looking at me like I’ve lost my mind. He’s carrying a box labelled Bedroom. I take note of bulging biceps testing the durability of his shirt-sleeves.

Norah is seventeen and has OCD and agoraphobia. She lives at home with her single Mum. The only time she goes outside is to visit her therapist. She doesn’t always make it as far as the car.

Her mum has to go on a business trip, but has booked a grocery delivery from the Helping Hands agency. Norah assures her she’ll be fine on her own. The doorbell rings. She can’t go and open it – but is shocked to find the creepy Helping Hands guy inside the house. Protocol when no-one answers, he tells her – you give us a key for this. He goes, but has left the groceries outside the house. Norah will have to overcome her phobia if she wants to eat. Then, by luck, the new neighbour from next door comes by – and he brings the bags in for her. They talk and Luke seems nice – really nice – in fact Norah is smitten. He seems to really like her too, but he’d never want a house-bound agoraphobic for a girlfriend, would he?

This is the beginning of a deep friendship and a delicate courtship between the pair. Luke is adorable and Norah can’t believe her luck. But the course of true-love doesn’t necessarily run smooth when constrained by OCD and agoraphobia, and then, one day something nasty happens…

Gornall writes from the heart, having experienced OCD and agoraphobia herself. Norah is a true-to-life narrator, loveable but frustrating, sensitive and occasionally potty-mouthed. An outsider who is stuck inside; whereas Luke, as the new boy in school, is also an outsider at first, but Norah is gradually able to let him into her life, overcoming OCD urges to clean things he touches and so on.

Later, when true bravery is required, will Norah be able to triumph over adversity? You’ll be wondering about the romance and what happens there – I can’t tell, but I was very happy with how Gornall ended the novel!  I read Under Rose-Tainted Skies in one sitting – couldn’t put it down. It will resonate with many YA readers and I hope it will uplift and inspire them. (9/10)


Born Scared by Kevin Brooks

Born ScaredAfter the nihilistic tour de force that was Brook’s (controversial) novel The Bunker Diary (reviewed here), Born Scared was always going to have a hard act to follow. (It’s not published until Sept 8th, but I wanted to pair my review with the one above as the themes are so similar).

Brooks’ latest follows the current YA vogue for mental health issue novels. Thirteen-year-old hero Elliott gets stranded home alone in the snow just before Christmas and he is on his last anti-anxiety tablet. His aunt who lives down the road had gone to collect his prescription and Elliott’s mum went to get it from her house – but she hasn’t come back…

Elliott was born very prematurely, his twin sister only lived for one hour. Now thirteen, he has severe anxiety issues about nearly everything and everyone in the real world, and is effectively house-bound by it, shielding himself from the outside world, and home-schooled by his single mum. He talks to his dead twin who was never christened, calling her Ella – Ellamay, and she is often the voice of reason in his head when his medication is wearing off and the black monster of his mind is threatening to appear. Another solace is staring into his snow globe – the scene within is from the fairy-tale of Little Red Riding Hood. The fact that it should scare him has a significance for Elliott, but he can’t work out why yet.

His last tablet is now wearing off. He needs to get to Aunty Shirley’s house. It’s less than 500m away. Can he do it? This is the dilemma on the novel’s first page:

I’ve got as far as the hallway now. Coat, hat, boots, gloves …
Cold sweat running down my back.
It’s three o’clock in the afternoon, Christmas Eve.
The snowstorm’s getting worse.
My heart’s pounding. I’m shaking, shivering. I feel sick. And every cell in my body is screaming at me to turn round and run.
But I can’t move.
Either Way.
I can’t go back.
Can’t go out.
I can’t do it.
It’s impossible.
I can’t go out there.
I’m terrified.

To tell you any more detail would be to spoil the plot for you, for there are things going on in his village that snowy night that would scare anyone stiff, let alone an ill teenager.

Elliott is a very plausible character, (of course a little younger than Norah above). His anxiety issues are heart-breaking and feel accurate; Brooks also captures his feelings about life and death well. It’s when he takes his first steps outside and the novel turns into a thriller with a lot of events conspiring to happen in a very short time that it felt a tad melodramatic.

However, Born Scared is very readable, gripping and I enjoyed it – just not as much as The Bunker Diary (as an adult read). I’m sure though that Elliott’s experience in overcoming adversity will appeal to younger teens. (7/10)

* * * * *

Source: Publishers – thank you.

Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall (Chicken House, July 2016) Paperback, 268 pages – Buy from Amazon UK

Born Scared by Kevin Brooks (Electric Monkey, September 8th, 2016) Paperback, 256 pages – Buy from Amazon UK

5 thoughts on “Two Mental Health Issue-led YA novels…

  1. Jenny @ Reading the End says:

    Under Rose-Tainted Skies sounds really, really great. I love reading books about mental illness by authors with mental illness — especially with something like OCD, which runs in my family so I have some experience with it. It’s neat when authors can describe that kind of experience well.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      YA trends are fascinating. Thank goodness we seem to have moved on from black covers and vampires through the suicide-lit of the past couple of years to other mental health issues and gender identity. YA really gets the zeitgeist.

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