At the heart Under Rose Tainted Skies is Norah, a character who has has agoraphobia and OCD. With an increase in children and teenagers suffering from mental illness, how important is it to have mental illness represented in YA?
It’s vital. Mental illness can be so cruel and isolating. Every teen needs to see themselves represented. They need to know they’re not alone, that they’re not some strange anomaly. And fiction is such a great way to reach those who haven't figured out how to talk about it yet, or haven't quite figured out what’s going on inside their head. For those that don't suffer with their mental health, books like Am I Normal Yet? [by Holly Bourne] or It’s Kind of a Funny Story [by Ned Vizzini], provide great insight into how a mental health mind works.
How do you think YA is doing with regards to representation of mental illness in general, and agoraphobia and OCD specifically?
It’s doing okay. I’ve read some beautiful, poignant representations over the last twelve months. But then I’ve also read a few books that I haven't been able to relate to at all, and some I didn't finish because they made me feel uncomfortable for whatever reason. But that’s okay, because I’ve seen it written in reviews that the books which didn't speak to me, have spoken to others in the right way. Honestly, I don't know what accurate rep is when it comes to mental health. It’s not a one-size-fits-all situation. I know that some of my behaviours are so extreme their legitimacy has been called into question, and I know that I’m a walking cliche when it comes to OCD. I’ve seen arguments about avoiding stereotypes with examples of what those stereotypes are, and I’m a bit like, whoa! That’s me. Let’s not be too hasty with avoiding things. It’s complicated, but luckily, it’s become something we can discuss.
When it comes to mental illness, how important are #OwnVoices novels?
Incredibly important. Absolutely. No one knows mental health like someone who suffers from it. That said, I’m not sure it’s essential. I know that’s a little controversial, but I also know that writing about “what’s wrong with you” is hard. If I hadn't had the support I’d had, Rose would never have happened. It was hard to face. So, between reluctant writers with mental health conditions, and writers who don't have any mental health conditions at all, the pool is narrowed considerably, and I want mental health books to be mainstream. I need writers to write characters like me. I trust authors will do their research, and approach with caution, least of all because that is a huge part of our job. I don't doubt that some will get it wrong, but I, personally, would rather have people give it a shot than not at all.
With the rise in popularity of books like Am I Normal Yet? By Holly Bourne, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven and More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera, do you worry that YA novels covering mental illness are becoming a trend – one that may phase out?
I’m not worried about the trend part, the brighter the spotlight we can shed on mental health, the better. It’s hard to get more coverage without it becoming popular, you know? Popularity is good. It means reach, growth, potential, education. The phasing out part is more of a worry, that would be awful, and say far too much about the attitude toward mental health. But then, it’s so real. Mental health is very much a part of teen life these days. Like kissing in YA, it doesn't get old because it isn't a quirk. It’s too big, too important. It’s not something that just goes away.
Are there any YA novels featuring characters with mental illness that you would recommend?
Two of my absolute favourites are All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, and Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne. Ned Vizzini’s, It’s Kind of a Funny Story is amazing, as is Laurie Halse Anderson’s entire back catalogue. And if you haven't already, you guys should totally check out Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. (I know Aspergers is no longer on the mental health spectrum, and I’m not dismissing that for a second. The only reason I mention this book is because it gives such a poignant, beautifully written insight into a mind that works a little differently.)
Thank you, Louise, for your fantastic answers! Do check out Louise's website, and Under Rose Tainted Skies, which was published on 7th July! It's an absolutely fantastic novel - be sure to read my review. Want to know more about the book? Read on...
Under Rose Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall - Agoraphobia confines Norah to the house she shares with her mother.
For her, the outside is sky glimpsed through glass, or a gauntlet to run between home and car. But a chance encounter on the doorstep changes everything: Luke, her new neighbour. Norah is determined to be the girl she thinks Luke deserves: a ‘normal’ girl, her skies unfiltered by the lens of mental illness. Instead, her love and bravery opens a window to unexpected truths …
An important and uplifting debut from a British author, which tackles mental health issues such as agoraphobia and OCD. From Goodreads.