The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

Title: The Astonishing Color of After
Author: Emily X.R. Pan
Pages: 480 pages
Release Date: March 20th, 2018
Source: ARC from publisher
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Magical Realism
Rating: 5/5 stars
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.

Buy it now!
** I received an advanced readers copy from the publisher. All of the thoughts and opinions stated in this review are my own. **

Everyone deals with grief in their own way. When her mother commits suicide, Leigh Chen Sanders refuses to believe that she's really gone from the world. She's sure that when her mother died, she took the form of a crimson bird. When Leigh receives a mysterious package that leads her to travel to Taiwan to meet her grandparents, she discovers a whole other side of her mom's life she wasn't aware of and even learns a thing or two about herself.

The writing was descriptive and gorgeous without being too flowery. Trust me, I'm a picky person when it comes to writing style. It kind of reminded me of the writing in The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee, which you must know is a book I could talk your ear off about. Pan does something completely unique, which is use color to describe emotion. Whoosh. Absolutely mind blown. It came so naturally and it wasn't like someone intentionally finding colors to match their emotions with. Read it for yourself:
"... I was colorless, translucent. I was a jellyfish caught up in a tide, forced to go wherever the ocean willed."

- Emily X.R. Pan, The Astonishing Color of After 
The book followed a non-chronological sequence that was both entertaining and fulfilling. At first, it was a little disorienting to jump back two decades, but it's something you pick up quickly and the chapter titles make it even easier.

Before reading this book, I was convinced that magical realism was not my genre. The magical realism element was used as a coping mechanism for Leigh, so that she could remember her mother and learn how to live on with her life. There was symbolism that appeared in carefully constructed times throughout the story making it feel like an easter egg hunt. I don't think this book would have been what it was without that element, and I am grateful to this book for showing me a new side of this genre.

What I enjoyed most about this book was the exploration of mental illness and suicide. Some books stick to you years after you read it, and I can predict this being one of those titles. The author states in the author's note that her family previously lost one of their own to suicide. She partly wrote this book in homage to breaking the stigmas behind mental illness and suicide.

I don't mean to get personal, but there was once a time in my life when I felt like suicide was the only option. Just like it was hard for Leigh to understand why her mother was depressed, my friends and family would often ask me why I felt that way when I had such a good life. First of all, that doesn't help. Second, there doesn't have to be a reason to explain someone's depression. Leigh's mother, like so many people, fell victim to a terrible disease. Depression is different for everyone. When I noticed that this was a recurring theme in the novel, I appreciated it a billion times more. Yes, you probably would have guessed by now that I cried while reading this book.

In the story, Leigh struggles with blaming herself and the people around her for her mother's dead. I just wanted to crawl through the pages, enter the story and hug Leigh because she didn't deserve to be so hard on herself. Even though we follow Leigh as the narrator, we're not just simply following her actions through the story. We also get a glimpse of her motives and desires through her internal thoughts.
"Whose fault was it? That's the question on everyone's mind, isn't it? Nobody will ever say it out loud. It's a question people would call inappropriate. The kind of thing where everyone tells you, 'It's nobody's fault.'"

- Emily X.R. Pan, The Astonishing Color of After
Let it be known that I absolutely adored this book. It is everything I ever wanted in a Young Adult contemporary that not only entertains but teaches and promotes. Why read this book? It's hard to understand mental illness, depression, and suicide. Sometimes when we, as humans, don't understand something we automatically fear it. We need to promote books like this to end the stigma. Help people. Break the cycle.

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  1. I shy away from magical realism and now I am thinking maybe I should give this one a go...

  2. I've never read Magical realism before, it sound intriguing thought! I'd seen this book around for a while but hadn't really heard much about it - your thoughts are really encouraging me to get my hands on it thought. I also struggle with depression and I get what you meant about feeling as if suicide was the only option at a certain point in your life. Knowing that there's a book out there that's openly addressing mental illness and suicide within the YA spectrum is quite noteworthy.

    I hope your in a better place now 😊great review :)!

    1. Just reading this comment, I think this book would be perfect for you! I really hope you decide to pick it up and if you do end up reading it, I'm here to talk if you ever need somebody.

  3. Ohhh I really wanna read this book, glad you liked it so much! I love reading books that addresses mental illness, and magical realism can be so wonderful x


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