Thursday, March 22, 2018

Review: The Astonishing Color of After

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan
Publisher: Little, Brown Books
Release Date: March 20th, 2018
Source: Netgalley
Date Read: 3/14/18
480 pages

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 received this ARC in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from ARC may or may not be in the published edition.

Hello there, long time no see. I’m back from…wherever I’ve been, to review The Astonishing Color of After, an amazing debut that I have had the wonderful pleasure of reading. Seriously, it’s only March and I’ve found a 2018 favorite. And I mean, yes, though it is probably due to the fact that I related so much to the biracial main character, there was just so much more to it than that.

The story revolves around Leigh, our half Taiwanese half white protagonist, whose mother recently took her own life. As Leigh struggles with her grief, she encounters a beautiful red bird. The bird, who Leigh believes to be her mother, directs her to a package filled with letters from her maternal grandparents addressed to her mom. From then on, Leigh is determined to meet both her grandparents for the first time, which she hopefully will lead to her finding her mother again.

I don’t know how else to say this, but THIS WAS A BEAUTIFUL, BEAUTIFUL NOVEL.

“My mother’s hands have turned to wings. Her hair, to feathers. Her pale complexion now red as blood, red as wine, every shade of every red in the universe.”

The way the colors were embedded within sentences, the interweaving of magical elements into a cultural ghost story (if this makes any sense at all haha), the accuracy of being in a new place with no sense of belonging, all of these things were what made this novel a new favorite.

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I’m literally at a loss for words right now, so I’m just gonna use bullet points:

  • Other than Starfish (my fave out of all the faves), this novel accurately captures what it means to be biracial. Plus, I think it can also be highly relatable to diasporic readers, as Leigh constantly frustrated with how she doesn’t know the language well and the fact that she’s neither met her grandparents nor ever been to Taiwan.
  • I love Leigh’s relationship with painting, AND COLORS. She struggles with gaining approval from her dad, who thinks she should be taking up a more “meaningful and successful” hobby or skill. On the other hand, Leigh’s mom is the one who encourages her to be creative.
  • Axel. I like Axel. The romance does play a role in the story, but there isn’t as much emphasis on it as there is on Leigh’s relationship with her mother.
  • To follow up more on that previous point, the story is told in alternating timelines, past vs. present. The present timeline starts with Leigh discovering that her mom turned into a bird, while the past is a couple months earlier.
  • The fact that this is more of a ghost story rather than fantasy. There are many magical elements throughout the novel, but it definitely didn’t feel like a straight up fantasy. Leigh discovered more of her family’s past through the use of incense sticks, which when burned, would let her see certain memories. And then of course, there’s the presence of this red bird, which may or may not be Leigh’s mother.
  • Lastly, I loved the originality of the ending. It is not something I saw coming!

Overall, this whole book is original, unpredictable, and completely relatable. I thank the ARC fairy from the very bottom of my heart for accepting my request for this book. The author did such an amazing job telling her grandmother’s story, along with portraying Taiwanese culture and biracial identity. I AM ON BOARD WITH ALL BOOKS SHE WRITES FROM NOW ON, and hopefully one day I’ll get to meet her.

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