This is an incredible story about how a young teenager sets out to find the truth behind her mother’s passing. What she finds is something way more than she imagined.
Here’s more about the story
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.
I absolutely loved this book. It reminded me a lot of Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward in terms of its use of magical realism and how connected the main characters are to the past. There are so many themes in this book that I honestly don’t know where to begin. I guess the best way to do it is just to write.
Before I was born, my mother lost her brother to a cocaine overdose. It devastated her and her entire family. While drug overdoses are sometimes accidental, my family always believed my uncle’s death was due to suicide. He just used drugs to do it.
This story reminded me of the grief my mom used to go through when I was younger. I would see her stare listlessly into the distance while listening to certain songs on the radio. She would ask me to step out of the car and head into the house while she listened to music that reminded her of her brother.
But it wasn’t specifically her grief that perplexed me, but my understanding of life and death and how sometimes the decisions we make for ourselves affect those around us.
When it comes to death, regardless of how it’s done, grief and loss come with so many questions. Was it your fault? What could you have done to make things better? Why did they have to leave us like this?
In The Astonishing Color of After you get an idea of what it might be like to get answers. Using magical realism, Emily XR Pan demonstrates how Leigh is able to see her mother’s past, her grandmother’s past, and her own past.
The book is broken up into three different stories. Each chapter starts off by telling you what part of the book you’re reading. First, there is the present day story of Leigh trying to find clues to her mother’s life in Taiwan. Second, there’s the glimpses of her own past and how her life has been changing. Third, there’s the mysterious packet of incense Leigh uses to delve further into her mother’s and grandmother’s past.
I’m a strong believer in spirits and I resonated deeply with this. Her mother is a bird and a friend she makes in Taiwan isn’t exactly alive. You see her travel to a small town where a man claims to have married her mother’s sister’s ghost. Like Leigh, I believe that those we lose do stick around after they’ve died. They may be spirits or ghosts or whatever you want to call them, but the one thing everyone knows about ghosts is that they’re stuck in this world until they’ve finished their business. I believe that Leigh was using her time in Taiwan to help her own mother finish her unfinished business.
As you read the story, you learn more and more about everything leading up to Leigh’s mother’s death. You can also feel the guilt that Leigh feels for being so caught up in her own life and her own issues (for example, she was busy kissing her best friend on the day her mother killed herself).
I love how this story is not only a story about loss and grief, but also about growing up and finding yourself. Self-identity is always important especially as a teenager and when you’re half Asian and half Caucasian, you wonder what side you are more related to. Perhaps you know one side more than another, but Leigh stumbles across exploring herself and her ancestry through her grandparents in Taiwan. She finds out about her mother’s life before her, how she sacrificed a lot for Leigh to be in the world, and you also understand the kind of remorse and guilt her mother feels for leaving her family behind.
The last theme I want to touch on is the use of color. Leigh is a really gifted artist who only uses charcoals to draw her work. However, she uses colors to describe emotions. It’s also not a simple red or blue, but cadmium red and titanium white and aquamarine. These are very specific colors to describe very specific emotions and I found it unique to see someone use those colors to describe how she feels. This goes double for an artist who doesn’t use color in her work.
- Hardcover: 480 pages
- Publisher: Little Brown Young Reader (March 20, 2018(
- Rating: 5/5 Stars!