Not too long ago I was sorting through my laptop and I found this . . . blog post, I guess? I wrote this comparison of Everything, Everything and Under Rose-Tainted Skies before I started my blog, after I read URTS in the summer. I just thought that there was a very important message that could be drawn from it, and it compelled me to write this post. I hope that many of you will agree with what I have to say.
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.
But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.
Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.
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 …
So, we have two novels, with two protagonists, each with their own problem: one is physically confined to their house, and one is mentally confined.
The thing I found most interesting about these novels is that, whilst the illnesses both girls suffer from are by no means the same thing, a lot of the time the same attitude can be applied. And yet it isn’t. I personally do understand that mental illnesses are just as legitimate as physical illnesses, but reading these two novels side by side, I realised how ridiculous it is that so many people don’t. Maddy (Everything, Everything) knows she can’t go outside, because all kinds of horrible things will happen to her; and whilst it doesn’t seem that way to everyone else, in Nora’s (Under Rose Tainted Skies) mind, she knows if she goes outside something terrible will happen to her. Both are trapped by what they know to be true. The amazing thing is that both novels end with the girls realising that the constrictions keeping them at home are false. With Everything, Everything, we see this in the very literal sense that her mother has simply been lying to her (afflicted by her own mental illness), and the outside world will not set off a thousand different allergies. However, because she is not accustomed to being outside, she still needs to be careful, to give herself time to adjust. Perfectly understandable, right? In fact, we wouldn’t approve if she just jumped into a normal life – we’d think she was irresponsible. And the thing that struck me about Under Rose Tainted Skies is that it is the same concept. Although Nora finally feels she is strong enough to face her anxieties and edge out into the big wide world, she still needs to take baby steps, and she would be unwise to test herself too much. We shouldn’t expect more of Nora than we do of Maddy, yet in the today’s society we would.
For anyone who doesn’t understand mental illness, or who thinks that it’s ‘not real’, I recommend you read these books, but read them as a pair. Get to know Maddy, her insecurities, her desire to be ordinary, her utter frustration at her incapability to be like everyone else, and at being excluded from normal teenage life. Then see the same emotions encompassed in Nora – it is impossible not to empathise with her the same way we do Maddy. After doing this, it should be completely clear to anybody that a mental illness is just as debilitating and uncontrollable as a broken leg, or a cold, or SCID (the disease Maddy supposedly suffers from). The brilliant thing is that way Louise Gornall wrote this novel makes the comparison the easiest thing in the world. When I read Under Rose Tainted Skies, I immediately saw the similarities, and I loved that Gornall managed to write this book in a way that could be understood by readers, whilst not detracting from the legitimacy or accuracy of Nora’s illness.
Because both of our protagonists are brave. By the end of each novel, Maddy and Nora have both decided they want more from their lives, and are actively taking those baby steps. And that deserves to be acknowledged. And acknowledging this in literature is one step towards it being acknowledged in modern society.
There are so many ways I could compare these two books (the roles of the few other characters in both novels; the parallels between the internal conflicts each girl goes through – I could go on), but I think I have covered the most noteworthy one. Both books have the same formula of affliction + desire to be normal + cute boy-next-door (who is part of the journey, not the destination) which makes them pair brilliantly together, and the combination of the two novels brings out the best in both of them.