The Astonishing Color of After
by Emily X. R. Pan
Fiction – Magical Realism
Published March 2018
So I finally subscribed to the Book of the Month club. Every month they select several books, and you get to pick one or more. (It’s an extra $10 for each one past the first, but they are GORGEOUS hardcovers, it’s worth it!) So for my first box I chose The Astonishing Color of After and Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine, both books I’ve heard a lot of great things about. They’re also both debut novels, which is something I’ve had a lot of really good luck with. And that held true for this one, certainly!
Just WOW. The Astonishing Color of After is about a teenage girl, an artist, dealing with her mother’s depression and ensuing suicide. Part of what makes the book so fascinating is Leigh’s constant description of colors. She uses color as shorthand for emotions – her grandmother might have a vermilion expression on her face, or she might be feeling very orange while staring at her mother’s coffin at the funeral. Between colors-as-feelings and her insomnia-induced hallucinations (or magic – the book is deliberately, I think, noncommittal on whether some things only happen in her head or not) the entire book feels a little surrealistic. But grief and mourning DO feel surrealistic. The book is amazingly evocative and emotional and I absolutely adore it. This, along with City of Brass and Children of Blood and Bone, are definitely on my Best of 2018 list.
As an added bonus, the author is the American child of Taiwanese immigrants herself. So all the ghost traditions and folklore from Leigh’s journey to Taiwan are from her ancestry as well.
This book was gorgeous. It may need a trigger warning for depression and suicide. If you can handle those themes, read it.
From the cover of The Astonishing Color of After:
“I didn’t cry. That was not my mother. My mother is free in the sky. My mother is a bird.”
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 reality and magic, past and present, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a stunning and heartbreaking novel about finding oneself through family history, art, bravery, and love.