{Leah Reviews} The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

Posted February 11, 2019 by Leah in Reviews / 6 Comments

{Leah Reviews} The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

The Astonishing Color of After

by Emily X.R. Pan
Pages: 462
Published on March 20, 2018
by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Genres: Culture, Family, Magical Realism, Young Adult
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Amazon | B&N | Goodreads

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.

4 Stars

What a surprise The Astonishing Color of After was. It’s a beautiful look at family, mental health, identity, love, and forgiveness. I’m glad I read this book when I did; it’s stayed on my mind since I turned the last page.

Novels discussing mental health can be tricky. They either run the risk of romanticizing it or downplaying the way it affects a person. Fortunately, the book does neither. This is a look at how depression affects a family. There’s a long-standing misunderstanding about mental illness, especially depression. It’s especially relevant in Asian cultures. Having a mental illness is usually considered a weakness. Seeking help is rare. Here, nothing is glossed over. It’s heartbreaking and haunting.

Magical realism elements are present throughout. Leigh believes her mother is now a bird, always out of her reach. This takes her to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents and discover a past her mother never spoke of. Leigh wants answers and ends up getting more. Color plays a pivotal role in her journey–this is a symphony of shades and hues as she learns about her family and culture.

She finds her identity. Growing up biracial in the U.S., she’s weathered the questions of “What are you?” from strangers. I related to this so much. I’m part Chinese and part Mexican. As a child, I was constantly asked what I was. It made me feel subhuman and ashamed of myself. When I get asked “What are you?” now, sometimes I say I’m a human being, which annoys the person asking me. It’s not the most mature response, but it’s true. 🙂

There’s something more happening between Leigh and her best friend, Axel. Axel is supportive, kind, and funny. They feel like friends. And that brings me to my gripe–Leigh and Axel are better as friends. I think the story would have been stronger without the romance. There were also moments when the book started to feel long. With tighter editing, The Astonishing Color of After would have been a five star read for me. However, this book is truly something unique and I’m glad it’s being talked about.



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6 responses to “{Leah Reviews} The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

  1. Great review! I read this a while back, and I loved it. 🙂 I could relate in so many ways, too. I thought the mental health issues were dealt with really poignantly, as someone who has lost someone to suicide. The emotions and struggles felt really familiar. Also, being biracial in the US, I get the “what are you” question a lot, too (whenever people don’t just straight up assume I’m African American, which I’m actually mostly not). I used to feel bad getting that question, like you did, but now, I just say, “A Libra.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ It’s worth it to see the look on people’s faces as they try to figure out where to go from there.

    Sammie @ The Writerly Way recently posted: Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
    • Leah

      It took me a long time to get over feeling bad about being asked that, too, but we shouldn’t. It’s definitely their issue to deal with. I’m a Libra too. Libras unite!

    • Leah

      It really was a beautiful journey. I’ve been on the hunt for a hardcover for my shelf since I read it. I can’t find one in stores and some books I’ve ordered online have come slightly damaged.

  2. Nathan

    This is a good review. I have heard a lot of praise for this book, and it seems like something to consider reading some time. Was the subject matter too difficult or well done?

    • Leah

      Thanks, Nathan.

      It really depends on personal preference. There are some things here which were tough to read about but it was well done.

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