Sunday, January 01, 2017

Panicked! Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

"Ready?" Mom asks. "Just keep breathing"

I'm drowning. "Mom." I snatch her arm, hold it tight to my chest like it's a buoy. I won't make it to the car. Exhaustion hits like a Mack truck. And then, just because the panic attack hasn't quite finished screwing me six ways from Sunday, the spasms start. Arms up, legs twitch. A tortured heaving sound makes my skeleton jerk. I can't stop it. At least I don't pass out this time. That's the worst, especially if there's no one around to catch you.

That's only happened to me once. Back then I didn't know what a panic attack was. Mrs. Dawson asked me a question in chem class, and my mind went blank. Everyone's eyes were on me. My vision started to wobble. Like when the heat rises off the desert floor and smudges the landscape, everything was out of focus. The next thing I knew I was waking up in the ER, a set of staples running down my forehead. T
hings got really bad from there.

In her first year of high school, Norah had a panic attack which left her with a full-blown case of agoraphobia complicated by obsessive compulsive disorder. Soon she can't leave her room unless her four cushions are lined up precisely on her perfectly-made bed and all her books are stacked by perfectly aligned sizes. Trips to see her psychologist usually end in an attack that requires Dr. Reeves to meet with her in the car.

But Norah likes to watch what goes on outside from the open door, and one day she watches a new family moving in next door, with an incredibly handsome boy, and she realizes she can't take her eyes off of him whenever he is outside.

Something warm fizzes like seltzer in my stomach as I watch him through the window.

And when her Mom has to be out of town, Norah finds herself unable even to retrieve the ordered groceries delivered to her back door, and she is surprised when he knocks and offers to bring them in. Apparently, he has seen her at the door trying to reach them and cheerfully carries them in. He is nice and funny, explaining that his mom made him come over and reassure them that he doesn't have a motorcycle or play drums all night. Norah is able to talk and joke with him. And for the first time in a long while, around Luke she feels normal.

Over time, waves from the doorway become texts back and forth, and eventually Norah is able to spend an evening watching movies with Luke. Against all odds, he seems to accept her, phobias and all, and to see her differently from the way she sees herself.

And then one movie night, after she has allowed Luke to touch her hand, he kisses her, and she recoils, visions of deadly bacteria in that kiss.

"Leave me alone!" I try to yell, but it comes out small, a tremor tearing through.

It's over, her time of feeling almost normal. Norah hates herself and her shrinking world even more now that she is really alone in a way she wasn't before Luke.

But then, when Mom is again away on business, the worst thing that can happen happens. Norah wakens suddenly in the middle of the night.

I notice the faintest glow of silver moonlight seeping out of a crack in Mom's door. Then there's a bump, and a single note from Mom's musical jewelry box rings out.

There's someone in my house.

The intruder will be coming to her bedroom next, Norah knows. And she knows what she has to do, must do.

"I have to leave the house."

Louise Gornall's forthcoming Under Rose-Tainted Skies (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Clarion, 2017) has it all--a self-aware, funny and phobic heroine whose courage matches her fears and a love story of two people drawn to each other despite it all. The strength of this young adult novel lies in the honest first-person narration of Gornall's character Norah, who takes the reader inside the constrained world of an agoraphobic with a sensitive but insightful description of her closely constrained world. Even with the somewhat ex machina ending which has Norah face the very worst of her fears, ironically to find real safety outside, this is a highly believable novel written in witty and elegant prose, with a promise of hope for Norah at the end of her flight from fear.

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