Title: The Astonishing Color of After
Author: Emily X.R. Pan
Publisher: Little, Brown Books
Release Date: March 20, 2018
Leigh Chen Sanders is a half Asian and half white teenager who is absolutely sure about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird. Leigh travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. While 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. This novel alternates between reality and magic, past and present, romance and friendship, hope and despair and is about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.
This book honestly really touched me in a way that I didn’t quite think a book could. The Astonishing Color of After was so poignant and full of beautiful raw emotion. I loved how this book was told from a teenager’s perspective–a teenager who was excellently characterized. I really felt that I could relate to Leigh and her sadness and confusion about the loss of her mother was so expertly written, that by the end of the book, I felt that I could almost perfectly understand what situation she was in, even though I haven’t been through anything that she experienced. What I ultimately LOVED was that Leigh, as an artist, described her emotions and situations through the use of colors. Now, this wasn’t stuff like “I feel blue because I’m sad” or “I feel orange because I’m happy”, Leigh described her feelings in actual tangible colors such as “disazo scarlet” and “bioluminescent green”. Pan depicted mental illness in such a sensitive and realistic manner. I felt that I especially learned so much about the reality of depression and the crushing grief that comes with losing a loved one to suicide.
To be honest, there wasn’t much that I disliked about this novel. If I had to find something, it would probably be that I wished there would have been more characterization of Axel, Leigh’s best friend, perhaps a chapter or two old from his perspective, since I found him an interesting person. Regardless, I thought this book was so beautiful and exquisitely crafted.
The Astonishing Color of After is definitely a heartrending, beautiful and reflective read, commenting on the nature of love, loss, grief, and memory, and how sometimes the lines between them are blurred. This contemporary, magical realism novel is about finding who you truly are and learning to accept the truly difficult things in life in order to discover your true self. I would certainly recommend this book to older young adult readings and to those who are okay with reading about suicide, depression, and other mental illnesses. Those who are fans of Anna-Marie McLemore’s or Marieke Nijkamp’s books would enjoy this novel as well. I give this book a 9.5 out of 10 stars.