Review: The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan || This book was subtly beautiful

The Astonishing Color of After

Emily X.R. Pan

the astonishing color of after

Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love. 

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Published: March 20th 2018

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Trigger Warning

 

 

 

 

 Suicide/Intense Suicidal Thoughts, Depression, Racial Slurs/Remarks, Reference to Electroconvulsive Therapy


“Here is my mother, with wings instead of hands, and feathers instead of hair. Here is my mother, the reddest of brilliant reds, the color of my love and my fear, all of my fiercest feelings trailing after her in the sky like the tail of a comet.” 

This book is one of those that quietly touches you. Was I expecting to cry? Yes, though I didn’t, there was an annoying walnut that occasionally made an appearance in my throat throughout the story.

Leigh comes home to find her mother committed suicide, though she is convinced her mother has turned into a bird and is trying to tell her something. This leads her to Taiwan, meeting her grandparents and a journey of coming to terms with the mental illness that her mother had lived with for years.

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“DepressionI opened my mouth to say, but the word refused to take shape. Why was it so hard to talk about this? Why did my mother’s condition feel like this big secret?


“She’s forgotten how to be happy,” I told him.”

Throughout my read, there was a blanket of sadness over me. I felt Leigh’s grief, all of her what if’s hit me, because it felt so real. The way it hit her and her father was all very realistic. Speaking of her father, I disliked him for the majority of the book.

The way he was dismissive of Leigh’s art, keeping stuff from her about her mother’s health, it rubbed me the wrong way. However, it was again, realistic. I saw how he felt he was doing the right thing out of love and in these situations, how do you handle these tough decisions?

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“I get it. There’s no point in wishing. We can’t change anything about the past. We can only remember. We can only move forward.”

There were a lot of important topics discussed along side depression and suicide. Leigh and Axel are biracial and there is some nice commentary on how people see them, especially when Leigh is in Taiwan. Leigh’s friend, Caro, is also a lesbian, so there’s no shortage of diversity here. Speaking of Caro, she’s kind of… forgotten in the current timeline of the story? Other than flashbacks, she’s gone until the very end. I kind of don’t know how to feel about that.

I appreciated the author making Taiwan the setting for the majority of the book and using flashbacks to show her mother’s declining health as well as the developing romance with Axel.

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Speaking on the romance, this was one situation where I thought it was unnecessary? This is a story about grief and family and accepting things taken out of your hands: the romance… it was cute in the end, but throughout the story, I was waiting to get back to Leigh’s plotline of discovery.

This is a story that will stick with me. It was a quiet sort of story one that slowly creeps up on you until you’re sitting, doing nothing one day and it hits you with how much you feel about it. I definitely recommend.

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