I begin by declaring this is really not the sort of book I normally ‘go for’ and the reason I did is because I know the author. In fact, I was a teacher at her primary school and bought my copy at her book launch with the sense of transferred pride only teachers share about former students! The book is only out in the UK at the moment but heading to the States soon. It’s published by Chicken House and is available in several shades of pink.
Having admitted that I would normally never pick up a YA pink covered novel, I have to say I was surprised by how much of this one I enjoyed. It is the story of a teenager, Norah, who is confined to her house by agrophobia combined with OCD tendencies. The story is narrated by Norah, giving an inside her head account of life within her house and accompanying internal dialogue as she faces each day. Though ostensibly set in California, the story could really be on any suburban housing estate anywhere because the story takes place virtually totally within the house. What is surprising about this is how interesting and compelling the depiction of Norah’s agrophobia is,
They -the geeks that deal in brain stuff- call what I have an invisible illness, but I often wonder if they’re really looking. Beyond the science stuff. It doesn’t bleed or swell itch or crack, but I see it, right there on my face. It’s like decay, this icky free colour, as if my life were being filmed through a grey filter. I lack light, am an entire surface area that the sun can’t touch.
Gornall actually depicts mental illness from within the mindset of an unwell teenager as though it is happening to her now offering real insight. Reading this shows how Norah’s illness is totally debilitating, for her and her mother. She demonstrates the better times and the terrible times, when she spirals towards self harm.
It works like a shake, a slap, an injection of anaesthetic. I picture it like a never ending tug of war between panic and calm. Self-harm is an impartial observer that steps up with something sharp to sever the rope. The minute the cut is made, both teams fly back, collapse to the ground on top of one another, exhausted.
For me, this is where the writing is at its strongest. I hope Gornall returns to these themes as a more mature writer writing for an older audience. I believe she has real potential.
I was less interested in the romance aspects, then it is a YA novel. Though the character of Norah is well drawn, I was not as convinced by Luke as a romantic interest. Similarly, Norah’s mom is a little too wonderful though Norah’s doctor is more convincing. It is the doctor who draws attention to the behavioural tics that give away Norah’s state of mind and make the reader notice their own quirks. Norah doesn’t have a story behind her health she is just ill. This resonated strongly for me how fragile health is, mental and physical, an important understanding to convey, especially to young adults searching for their own version of what normal means.