Title: The Astonishing Color of After
Author: Emily X.R. Pan
Published by:Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publishing date: March 20th 2018
Genre: YA, Magical-contemporary
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.
Trigger Warnings: suicide, depression, suicidal thoughts
Representation: Taiwanese-American main character, Puerto Rican/Filipino love interest, lots of Taiwanese characters and a character with depression.
The Astonishing Color of After is a beautifully written book, the writing style is lyrical and poetic. I’ll admit that I usually have trouble connecting to characters and situations when books have that writing style, but that was not the case with this book, I wasn’t even 10% into it and it had already made me tear up. Later in the book, I did feel the writing distracted me a little from the story, but it was still beautiful.
This is a story about grief and mental illness, especifically depression, and it addresses both of these things in such an amazing and heartbreaking way. This talks about the stigma surrounding depression and how it makes it hard to discuss it with family and friends; it also deals with the feelings and thought process of the loved ones of someone with depression; it portraits how hard depression is and how there’s no easy fix, and it also explores in depth what grief can do to someone. Honestly, this book deals with so many important subjects and it does it so well.
The story is told from Leigh’s point of view, which is interesting, because she is an unreliable narrator and it’s impossible to know which of the things she is seeing and hearing are real. Another reason why Leigh is a compelling narrator is the fact that she is an artist and because of that, she has a particular way of seeing the world, which is really well described and it works well with Emily X.R Pan’s writing.
The development of the relationship between Leigh and her father is one of the most intricate and interesting parts of the story. I wish we had seen more of him in the present and not only in the past, because I feel like at the end so many things between the two of them were resolved in the blink of an eye, with one short conversation between them.
I loved Leigh and Axel together, the evolution of their relationship is told through flashbacks and I completely fell in love with their dynamic and how sweet Axel is. Also, I really liked the fact that this book didn’t shy away from addressing Leigh’s thoughts and desires about her sexuality. It’s a very sex positive book.
The story did lose me a bit at some point when Leigh was in Taiwan, I hoped that the relationship between her and her grandparents was explored more. There are a few meaningful and sweet moments, but overall, her time in Taiwan felt like it was her going to places and wandering around without getting much out of it. And there was a point where the book started to drag a little. Nonetheless, I did enjoyed the fact that this is set in Taiwan and we get amazing descriptions of food, places, traditions and beliefs. I also want to add that, the way Leigh’s feelings of being out of place with her mother’s family were explored was really interesting, and the way this book portraited- both in flashbacks when Leigh was in the United States and in the present when she was Taiwan- the perception and reactions of other people over her being half-asian and half-white was fascinating.
Lastly, the part of the story that is told through magical memories was great. Those memories are basically where all the big reveals take place and it is a cool and unique way for Leigh to discover the truth about her family and it avoids making the book boring.
Rating: 4 stars
Have you read this book? Are you planning on reading it? What other contemporaries with magical elements would you recommend?
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