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

May 15, 2018
 The Astonishing Color of After, Emily X.R. Pan, Book Review, InToriLex
Published By: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on March 20, 2018
Format Read:  Book of the Month Hardcover Edition (472 pages)
Genre: Young Adult/ Magical Realism/ Contemporary
Series: Stand Alone
Source: Purchased
The Astonishing Color of After
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.


Content Warning: Suicide, Depression


Throughout this book Leigh has to grapple with the traumatic loss of her parent and confront how she dealt with her mothers depression. I could  relate to her experience because my mother suffers from mental illness. It can be really hard to understand how someone deals with an internal struggle. Leigh has to confront her sorrow but also sets out to discover her mother's past after her mother becomes a bird, she sets off to Taiwan. In Taiwan Leigh is in search of her mother who has turned into a bird. Along the way she unveils family secrets and confronts her own inner struggles. The writing was great and included  great descriptions of how ostracizing it is when people actively point out that your different. Leigh is even referred to as a mixed blood when she's in Taiwan, because she is half white.
"Back at home sometimes people say I look exotic or foreign. Sometimes they even mean it as a compliment. I guess they don't hear how that makes it sound like I'm some animal on display at the zoo." 
The magical realism in the book helped Leigh learn about what her grandmother and mother experienced in Taiwan before she was born. Leigh expresses her emotions by describing colors because she's an artist. There were many colors I haven't heard of in the book, I did have to pause a few times while I looked up what they were. Leigh's dad hasn't always been supportive of her pursuing a career in art and struggle to communicate with her. Her crush and best friend Axel is supportive but aloof of how Leigh feels like most teenage boys are. All of the characters were well developed and made me want to root for them while reading.
"Once upon a time we were the standard colors of a rainbow, cheery and certain of ourselves. At some point, we all began to stumble into the in-between, the murky colors made dark and complicated by resentment and quiet anger."
I was engaged with the story and enjoyed the writing but  the story could have been shorter and as effective. While everything was told thoughtfully there were some plot points that were never revisited again. In the end I felt there were secrets left out there after they were hinted about. I did enjoy learning more about Taiwanese culture and customs, because I don't know much about that part of the world. This is a intimate portrayal of what it means to grieve which portrayed depression realistically and sympathetically. Overall it was a good read and I look forward to what comes next from this author.

Recommended for readers who
-enjoys magical realism and books that tackle serious issues
-appreciate own voice authors and Taiwan History
-like character driven stories


Emily X.R. Pan lives in Brooklyn, New York, but was born in the Midwestern United States to immigrant parents from Taiwan. She received her MFA from NYU, where she was a Goldwater Fellow. She is a co-creator of FORESHADOW: A Serial YA Anthology, and a 2017 Artist-in-Residence at Djerassi. She logs the books she reads in an Excel spreadsheet and a secret other Goodreads account.

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