- Hardcover: 480 pages
- Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (March 20, 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 031646399X
- ISBN-13: 978-0316463997
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.5 x 8.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 126 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,766 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Astonishing Color of After Hardcover – March 20, 2018
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Gr 9 Up—Leigh comes home to the unimaginable—her mother, who has always been depressed, has committed suicide. As her grief swells, Leigh believes in her fog that her mother has not died but her mother's spirit has now turned into a vivid bird who brings Leigh gifts, both physical and in the form of memories. Trying to put all the pieces together, her father and Leigh travel to Taiwan, where her mother immigrated from to the United States after meeting Leigh's father. She has never met her mother's family, and does not understand why her mother never spoke to Leigh about her parents or her childhood. Seeking answers for these questions and more, Leigh's father leaves her in Taiwan to stay with her grandparents. The present-day is woven with flashback memories; Pan's writing takes readers on a journey filled with so much emotion, color, and such well-developed characters with a touch of magic, readers will come to the ending drained and fulfilled at the same time. An exploration of grief and what it means to accept a loved one's suicide, this book's lyrical and heart-rending prose invites readers to take flight into their own lives and examine their relationships. VERDICT Pan's debut novel is not to be missed. Give this to fans of magical realism titles and any reader who is battling grief.—Stephanie Charlefour, formerly of Wixom Public Library, MI
"Emily X.R. Pan's brilliantly crafted, harrowing first novel portrays the vast spectrum of love and grief with heart-wrenching beauty and candor. This is a very special book."―John Green, bestselling author of The Fault in Our Stars and Turtles All the Way Down
"Magic and mourning, love and loss, secrets kept and secrets revealed all illuminate Emily X.R. Pan's inventive and heart-wrenching debut."―Gayle Forman, bestselling author of If I Stay and I Was Here
"Emily X.R. Pan utterly transported me to a world reminiscent of Isabel Allende. Haunting at every turn, this is a glorious debut."― Renée Ahdieh, bestselling author of The Wrath and the Dawn
"An extraordinary debut from a fiercely talented writer."― Nova Ren Suma, bestselling author of The Walls Around Us
"This beautiful, magical journey through grief made my heart take flight."― Holly Black, bestselling author of The Cruel Prince and The Darkest Part of the Forest
"The Astonishing Color of After works a delicate magic. Its portrayal of grief is deeply felt, and so too is its deliciously tricky romance. I loved this book."― Marie Rutkoski, bestselling author of The Winner's Curse
"My heart has never been more pleasantly devastated. A raw and brilliant debut."― Roshani Chokshi, bestselling author of The Star-Touched Queen
"lyrical and suspenseful"―The New York Times Book Review
"In this dazzling debut, author Emily X.R. Pan has created a spellbinding narrative about love, family, and what it means to grieve."―Bustle
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What I liked: This was a great debut by a very promising author and the premise was intriguing to say the least. I stayed up until 1am reading it and finished it the next day, and will be loaning my copy to a couple of friends and family members. I thought the writing was overall strong and clear and engaging. The portrayal of depression and suicide and the stigma that surrounds mental health, especially in Asian-American families, is realistic. I am also a sucker for magical realism.
What I am torn on: Eastern mythicism is kind of the backbone of this novel, which is not something I generally love because this is a trope that has been done to death by orientalist authors like Amy Tan, and can often contribute to building an unhealthy exploitative aura of fabricated mystery around people from Asia, painting them as mysterious, superstitious 'others' rather than highlighting our similarities and bridging cultural divides. However, I will say that pretty much all of the religious and cultural elements mentioned in this novel are portrayed accurately, and the perspective of the protagonist does read to be from someone who is genuinely trying to understand the local culture.
What I didn't like: The main character's best friend/love interest, Axel, is a boring and uncompelling character; he is basically a male version of her. Yet he is featured prominently in the novel and there is no way to escape him because even when he is not present, her streams of consciousness keep turning to him. The dialogue in general was stilted and unrealistic, and not reflective of how teenagers actually speak. (The characters mostly speak in cliched language reminiscent of the 90s, along the lines of: "Ugh, mo-om!" I sighed, rolling my eyes. "You're being <i>totally</i> annoying!")
This is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read in my entire life. It’s powerful, moving, poignant, lyrical, important, and touched me beyond words. From the discussion about mental health and the stigmas we still have in 2018 (especially in Asian cultures), to the true portrayal of grief, to the heartbreaking truth about depression, to the realistic depiction of what it means to be not only biracial but to be white passing, to the discovery of your identity. The Astonishing Color of After is a book I will cherish for the rest of my life.
“I would’ve carved out my heart and brain and given them to her just so she could feel right again.”
But this is a very heavy book, so big trigger and content warnings for suicide, depression, loss of a loved one, depiction of blood, very intense suicidal thoughts, abandonment, racial slurs/remarks, and mention of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). But if you’re in the right state of mind, I recommend this book with my whole heart and soul. This will easily make my best of 2018 list.
The Astonishing Color of After is a story about a girl who has just realized that her mother has committed suicide. This book follows her suffering with the loss of her mother, who she is also seeing in the shape of a bird. This bird has convinced our main character, Leigh, to travel to Taiwan, because there is something there that her mother wants her to remember.
“My mother is a bird. This isn’t like some William Faulkner stream-of-consciousness metaphorical crap. My mother. Is literally. A bird.”
➽ Mental Health -
This is a book about mental health and how depression impacts everyone around the person who is living with it. In the acknowledgements, Emily X.R. Pan states that she was inspired to finish this book after someone close to her took their own life. And I’m not going to say that her experience, or my experience, are the only experiences, but the depiction of depression in this book sends a chill up my spine because it feels so real and accurate.
This book discusses how people always think they could have saved the person who ended their life. Or how pills and medications are the fix that depressed people need. Sometimes people believe in other, terrible, treatments that will cure depression, no matter what it costs that person. Depression is an illness, just like anything else. It can come once, it can come and go, and it can come and never leave. But depression is real, and it can be hard, really hard, and it’s not something that’s an “easy fix”, and it’s not something that we should keep stigmatizing and pretending that it’s not a real illness. And this book respectfully and beautiful depicts that. And there is absolutely no suicide shaming in this book.
“Long before doctors put a label on her condition and offered slips of paper bearing the multisyllabic names of pharmaceuticals. Long before my father started leaving on his work trips. Long before everything: She was already hurting.”
➽ Grief -
The start of this book was really heavy and hard to read for me. When Leigh discovers what her mother did my heart felt like it was being shredded. But seeing her mother live with her own grief shredded my soul. Depression, loss, and grief are highlighted themes through this entire book, and they are so real and so important and I have no words to express how much they meant to me that they were huge components of this YA story.
“In the beginning, that mother-shaped hole was made of blood. Dark and sticky, soaked to the roots of the carpet.”
➽ Discovery -
Ultimately, this is a book about Leigh discovering her self in every sense of the word. From discovering her sexuality, to discovering her creativity, to trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life. To also living with a parent that is depressed, to sharing a life with a parent who is never home. To finally discovering her culture that has been somewhat hidden from her for her entire life. Also, this book is the biggest love letter to the healing power of art.
“Maybe that’s where all the other colors are hiding—in a dimension of the world we just can’t see, between our sky and the rest of the universe.”
➽ Being Biracial -
I feel like this is something I never talk about because I feel shame because of all the privileges I’ve received my entire life from being so very white passing, but apparently 2018 is the year I bring up my Filipino heritage in every review I write. I’m a lot more white passing than Leigh, but the things she deals with and feels, especially when she travels to Taiwan, is something so real and something I’ve never had depicted in a book before. From my light hair and eyes, to my barely basic understanding of Tagalog, this book was the book I’ve been searching for my entire life. I have no word combination for how seen I felt in the book. (Also the love interest is half Filipino, and was the cutest little cinnamon role who warmed my heart throughout the book!)
“I suck in a deep breath and quicken my steps to press closer to my grandmother. Her proximity feels like a shield. If only I didn’t stand out so obviously with my lighter eyes, with my lighter hair and its streak of green. If only I had been raised more Taiwanese, and could somehow prove to these people that I belong here.”
➽ Identity -
But seeing Leigh claim back her identity is something so beautiful that I don’t even have words for. This story is crafted and woven so exceptionally between different pasts and her present, and seeing Leigh come into her own is something I can’t possibly put into words.
“We try so hard to make these little time capsules. Memories strung up just so, like holiday lights, casting the perfect glow in the perfect tones. But that picking and choosing what to look at, what to put on display—that’s not the true nature of remembering.”
Overall, I loved this (if you couldn’t tell)! This, again, is a story that I will carry inside of my heart for the rest of my life. Emily X.R. Pan has crafted something that is so raw, but so magical. Plus, this is one of the most impressive debuts that I’ve ever read in my entire life. I recommend this with my entire heart and soul.