Title: The Astonishing Color of After
Author: Emily X.R. Pan
Genre: Contemporary/Magical Realism/Young Adult
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: March 20th, 2018
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.
This book was beautiful, heart-wrenching, devastating, and hopeful.
Leigh is half-Asian, with very little connection to her Asian heritage aside from a very small knowledge of Mandarin. When her mom commits suicide and her spirit turns into a bird, Leigh follows clues left by her mom’s spirit to Taiwan, where she meets her grandparents for the first time. What follows is a series of flashbacks as Leigh comes to learn why her mom left Taiwan in the first place and how she had been hurting for a very long time. The topics of mental health and suicide are not glorified or sugar-coated. Instead, we are shown how these issues can affect a family, but how that family can learn to let go and continue on.
I loved the setting. It was a beautiful glimpse into Taiwanese/Chinese culture, from the food to the customs to the language. Since Leigh is half-Asian, we are shown how she is perceived in America (fetishized and stereotyped) and then how she is perceived in Taiwan (being pointed out by strangers for being “mixed). We also see how there is a stigma surrounding mental illness.
The flashbacks were my favorite parts to read. I loved getting to see Leigh’s family history, from the time her grandmother was born to the time her mother met her father. We also saw the development of Leigh and Axel’s friendship, and how it evolved over time to become something more.
There are some heavy topics in The Astonishing Color of After, but it ends on a hopeful note. I thought that everything was handled beautifully, and the magical realism never felt over-the-top. Some of the reveals at the end were completely unexpected.
Don’t go into this expecting a light read, but if you are in the mood for something a little sad, a little hopeful, and a little magical, I would recommend The Astonishing Color of After.