The Astonishing Color of After

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 ne...

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Title:The Astonishing Color of After
Author:Emily X.R. Pan
Rating:

The Astonishing Color of After Reviews

  • Emily Pan

    I guess I should maybe give my own book five stars?

    THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER debuted on the New York Times Bestseller list and the Indie Bestseller list!

    It also was named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the top twelve books of the season, was #5 on the INDIE NEXT list, a Junior Library Guild selection, a Book of the Month Club pick, and the Birchbox Book Club pick for March 2018!

    Check out the STARRED REVIEWS and media buzz:

    “Particularly laudable is Pan’s sensitive treatment of men

    I guess I should maybe give my own book five stars?

    THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER debuted on the New York Times Bestseller list and the Indie Bestseller list!

    It also was named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the top twelve books of the season, was #5 on the INDIE NEXT list, a Junior Library Guild selection, a Book of the Month Club pick, and the Birchbox Book Club pick for March 2018!

    Check out the STARRED REVIEWS and media buzz:

    “Particularly laudable is Pan’s sensitive treatment of mental illness: Leigh learns many heartbreaking things about her mother’s life, but those moments are never offered as explanations for suicide; rather, it’s the result of her mother’s lifelong struggle with severe, debilitating depression. Dynamic, brave Leigh emerges vividly in Pan’s deft hand, and her enthralling journey through her grief glows with stunning warmth, strength, and resilience.”

    “Pan’s emotionally charged debut is a compelling exploration of grief and the insidiousness of depression. Her narrator, an artist by nature, sees the world through a colorful, complicated lens, and the novel is steeped in its Taiwanese setting…. An undeniable message about the power of hope and inner strength.”

    “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.”

    “This novel is as elegant as it is mesmerizing. The narrative—especially Leigh’s grief and guilt—is heartbreakingly real. Readers will relate to her vulnerability and overwhelming desire to find answers. This is a truly stellar debut, illuminating not only a family’s ongoing struggle with depression, but also the impact upon those left behind when faced with a friend or family member’s suicide.”

    "Debut novelist Emily X.R. Pan's author's note reveals her "family lost one of [their] own to suicide." From her personal tragedy rises The Astonishing Color of After, alchemizing devastation through art, music, poetry and, most importantly, forgiveness and unconditional love. In Leigh's mother's recovered final message, the last, crossed-out line, "I want you to remember," becomes a repeated rallying cry and an aching realization that "the purpose of memory... is to remind us how to live." ... Pan offers an extraordinary journey that proves real, surreal and wholly magical."

    "The dichotomous flow of this novel helps to peel off the many layers of the story—death and life, challenges and memories, past and future—all intertwined and continuing to build a sophisticated plot."

    “Pan’s heartbreaking, deeply felt YA debut sensitively probes questions about grief and loss.”

    “A moving, original tale…. Wide-ranging and utterly unforgettable, Emily X.R. Pan’s depiction of the search for one’s identity will leave you with shivers.”

    “Vitally important. In her debut book, Pan communicates what seems many lifetimes of wisdom: the intricacies of grief, how mental illness ripples through families and what it means to find love in the midst of so much loss.”

    “In this dazzling debut, author Emily X.R. Pan has created a spellbinding narrative about love, family, and what it means to grieve.”

    THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER was chosen for the

    list! Check out these amazing

    :

    There are already blurbs from some incredible authors, too:

    “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.”

    , bestselling author of

    and

    “Magic and mourning, love and loss, secrets kept and secrets revealed all illuminate Emily X.R. Pan’s inventive and heart-wrenching debut.”

    , bestselling author of

    and

    “This book mesmerized me from page one. With its lyrical writing and heartbreakingly real protagonist, The Astonishing Color of After provides a poignant reminder of grief’s power and the transcendence of love. Emily X.R. Pan utterly transported me to a world reminiscent of Isabel Allende. Haunting at every turn, this is a glorious debut.”

    , bestselling author of

    “The Astonishing Color of After is an elegant, poignant journey that crosses an ocean of memory and great loss to face the ghosts of the past and find vivid love. An extraordinary debut from a fiercely talented writer.”

    , bestselling author of

    "This beautiful, magical journey through grief made my heart take flight.”

    , bestselling author of 

     and 

    works a delicate magic. Its portrayal of grief is deeply felt, and so too is its deliciously tricky romance. I loved this book.”

    , bestselling author of

    “My heart has never been more pleasantly devastated. A raw and brilliant debut.”

    , bestselling author of

    My editor also wrote a beautiful letter about the book that's printed inside the ARC 😭😭😭:

    I have a monthly-ish newsletter! For all the sneak peeks and behind-the-scenes updates, PLUS to get in on any exclusive giveaways,

    .

  • Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies

    I'm proud of my Asian heritage. That said, there are some things upon which the Asian culture can improve in general, and one of the major issues is how we treat mental illness. It is a stigma. It is ignored until one explodes. Even in the US, Asian-American women have a high rates of suicide because of how unwilling we are to talk about our problem, and the unwillingness of our family to confront it.

    There have been numerous suicides among famous actors and musicians in countries like Japan and

    I'm proud of my Asian heritage. That said, there are some things upon which the Asian culture can improve in general, and one of the major issues is how we treat mental illness. It is a stigma. It is ignored until one explodes. Even in the US, Asian-American women have a high rates of suicide because of how unwilling we are to talk about our problem, and the unwillingness of our family to confront it.

    There have been numerous suicides among famous actors and musicians in countries like Japan and South Korea, and after each one, people talk about it and how sad it is, and how we should not overlook depression, but I feel like nothing is ever done after the mourning period. People are still afraid to talk about their feelings for the fear of sounding weak. I think in the US, depression is not such a stigma here, and we are encouraged to seek help. In East Asian countries, mental health was and remains to be overlooked.

    I suffered from depression myself, I shouldn't use the past tense because sometimes I find myself in its grip, because depression never

    goes away. As someone caught between my heritage and American culture, this book hits very close to home.

    Leigh is the main character in this book, a Taiwanese-American, half white, half Asian. Her mother commits suicide, and Leigh believes that she turned into a bird.

    Someone mentioned "magical realism" in their review of this book and I almost ran screaming away. I fucking hate the bullshit woo-woo of magical realism. It was a poor way to describe this book, because while it has a magical, mystical quality, the tone of the narrator makes it completely readable.

    Leigh is just a typical teenager. I shouldn't say "typical" because so commonly in YA books, a typical teenager acts so clichéd. A better word is "believable." She has feelings that I could relate to. She feels guilt. She feels desire.

    This book is about Leigh's journey to understanding her mother, someone she only thought she knew. It's also a journey for Leigh, who discovers herself. It's an excellent rite-of-passage book.

    I love the way the book incorporates her feelings for her friend and crush, Axel. It's not an overwhelming thing, but Leigh's guilt and confusion over him is written so vividly.

    Like I said before, this book approaches mental illness and depression so well.

    This book doesn't glorify depression and suicide by any means, but it is so beautifully written. It was a long book, but definitely worth the read. Have tissues handy.

  • Melanie

    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

    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.

    is a book I will cherish for the rest of my life.

    But this is a very heavy book, so big

    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.

    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.

    -

    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.

    -

    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.

    -

    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.

    -

    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!)

    -

    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.

    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.

    Oh, and real quick I want to mention that Leigh has a lesbian best friend who has the most supportive mom (and family) in the world and it was such a bright shining light for me! Also, the mom’s name is Mel and I’m going to totally believe her name is Melanie and it was a glimpse of my future if I ever have kids. Okay, now, go buy this book and come gush with me!

    And lastly, here are some amazing resources that are actually in the book:

    National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

    In a crisis, call their free and 24/ 7 U.S. hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

    Contact their Crisis Text Line: text TALK to 741-741

    National Hopeline Network:

    / 1-800-442-HOPE (4673)

    American Association of Suicidology:

    American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

    Suicide Prevention Resource Center:

    Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors:

    American Association of Suicidology survivors page:

    Friends for Survival:

    National Suicide Prevention Lifeline survivors page:

    Suicide Awareness Voices of Education:

    Mental Health America:

    National Alliance on Mental Illness:

    National Institute of Mental Health:

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  • Larry H

    4.5 stars, rounded up.

    Lyrical, emotionally powerful, even fantastical at times,

    is a stunning, poignant look at grief, family, love, and secrets that packs a real punch, and leaves you with gorgeous images in your mind.

    "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

    4.5 stars, rounded up.

    Lyrical, emotionally powerful, even fantastical at times,

    is a stunning, poignant look at grief, family, love, and secrets that packs a real punch, and leaves you with gorgeous images in your mind.

    "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. Memory is a mean thing, slicing at you from the harshest angles, dipping your consciousness into the wrong colors again and again."

    Leigh Sanders has always caught people's attention—for the colorful streaks she puts in her hair, her artistic talent, and her mixed heritage, as her mother is Chinese and her father is Irish-American. But no matter how many times she asked through her childhood, she's never met her maternal grandparents, never heard much about her mother's life before she met Leigh's father while studying in America. It's always a door that has remained closed, and if anything, Leigh's attempts to open it have been met with real resistance from her parents.

    Then one day, the bottom falls out. Leigh's mother commits suicide. Although her depression always seemed a part of their lives the last several years, neither Leigh nor her father ever really thought this would happen. Leigh tries to figure out what signs she might have missed, what she could have done differently, while at the same time, she blames her father's withdrawal from their lives, his continual business travels, for leaving her mother so vulnerable.

    In the days following her suicide, Leigh believes her mother keeps returning to her in the form of a beautiful red bird, but when she calls out to her, or asks her to stay, the bird flies away. What is her mother trying to tell her? What does she want Leigh to do?

    "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-betweens, the murky colors made dark and complicated by resentment and quiet anger."

    As if all of that isn't complicated enough, Leigh must also face facts that on the day her mother killed herself, Leigh finally kissed Axel, her best friend and (perhaps not-so) secret crush. How can she reconcile those two events?

    Her father finally relents and travels with Leigh to Taiwan so she can finally meet her maternal grandparents. There she hopes that she'll finally understand what her mother is trying to tell her, what she wants her to remember. As she begins to learn more about her mother and the reasons she closed herself and Leigh off from her heritage, she learns powerful lessons about the power of memory, loss, ghosts, and the connections of blood and friendship.

    This is a beautiful, heartfelt, somewhat quirky book, which shifts between real and fantasy, present and past. At times it's necessary to suspend your disbelief, as Leigh is able to witness memories she never knew about (or, in some cases, wasn't alive for), and there's a lot of discussion about ghosts, as they're revered and feared in Taiwan. Additionally, being an artist, Leigh tends to reflect and explain moods in color, particularly unusual shades of color, so that may strike some as off-putting.

    Those quirks aside,

    really is astonishing. Emily X.R. Pan captures teenage angst, grief, and fears perfectly, and the strange unevenness of family dynamics. This is a book that dazzled, lyrically and emotionally, as it made me tear up, which is always a fun thing to do on a plane ride! This may not be a book for everyone, but for those who decide to read it, I hope it paints a beautifully emotional portrait for you as well.

    See all of my reviews at

    , or check out my list of the best books I read in 2017 at

    .

  • Elise (TheBookishActress)

    This deserved its spot on the NYT bestsellers list. Actually, it deserved higher and to stay longer.

    First of all,

    is the

    This is contemporary fabulism

    This deserved its spot on the NYT bestsellers list. Actually, it deserved higher and to stay longer.

    First of all,

    is the

    This is contemporary fabulism, and in the typical fashion of that genre, it is weird as hell – but gorgeous. Emily X. R. Pan is really out here being more talented an author in her debut than most authors ever become after years of practice? I know this one is a bit long in terms of pagecount, but it’s actually a

    fast read. There’s an extremely natural quality to every word. It

    .

    And second of all, I really think this is one of the most thematically strong books I’ve read this year. As you probably know because this book has been everywhere this year, it follows a girl whose mother has died by suicide. So it’s a book about the way both Asian and American cultures often don’t respect victims of depression the way they should. It’s a book about finding family across the world, family despite a language barrier.

    Thirdly, and this is something that tends to really enhance my love of books - I would give my life for the lead. Leigh is a girl going through hell, and not really knowing how to deal with it. I love how the book doesn’t frame this as a maturity issue on any level - Leigh is dealing with something almost impossible to handle, and no matter how hard she tries, it is going to be hard. Leigh is also biracial and Taiwanese, and the way the narrative adresses both of these facts is lovely; I felt so connected to her despite being neither.

    The only reason it’s not getting a five is because it lacked that special something for me

    . But 1) I still almost cried, and 2) I absolutely think this will be a new favorite for anyone with personal experience with suicide in the family [a tragedy that has never occured in my life]. Cathartic, emotive, and

    written, with a lead protagonist I absolutely adore, this book is going to make it straight to the top of all the best-of-2018 lists.

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  • Hailey (HaileyinBookland)

    TW: suicide, depression

    Such a beautiful debut! The writing was exquisite, I really cared for the characters, and I loved learning more about Chinese/Taiwanese culture! It was a fully immersive read that was definitely heartbreaking, but beautiful overall. The magical realism/religion element was excellently executed. Really enjoyed this one! My only complaint is it was a teensy bit too long IMO (though it did really insanely fast for the most part).

  • Emily May

    As you can see from the picture I shared on instagram, this book was so quotable.

    I probably wouldn't have read

    if I hadn't noticed it on my library's new relea

    As you can see from the picture I shared on instagram, this book was so quotable.

    I probably wouldn't have read

    if I hadn't noticed it on my library's new releases page and thought "why not?" Talk of magical realism and a mother who turns into a bird made it sound a little too weird for my tastes; plus, talk of "lush writing" and comparisons to writers like Nova Ren Suma made me think it might be an obnoxiously flowery magical realism book.

    Honestly, all that is a little misleading. Leigh's first-person narrative - though prone to a kind of synesthesia - is far more frank and lacking in bullshit than I'd expected. She comes across as realistic, flawed and complex. The story itself is an interesting journey that does more than the typical YA grief novel.

    In the wake of her mother's suicide, Leigh is convinced her mother has turned into a bird and is trying to communicate with her. This leads her down a path that forces her to come to terms with the mental illness that her mother had lived with for years.

    In a refreshing change from the YA contemporaries I usually read, most of this story takes place in Taiwan. After her mother's death, Leigh travels there to reconnect with the Taiwanese part of her family and the author does not miss the opportunity to make the most of her setting. We are taken on a richly-portrayed journey, as Leigh discovers her mother's roots, language and culture.

    The new discoveries in Taiwan alternate with flashbacks to Leigh's life with her mentally ill mother.

    Many studies have been done on the

    in

    . The NLAAS found that Asian-Americans are

    to seek mental health help. Which is why this book about a Taiwanese woman with depression is so important. Through Leigh, depression is unpacked and explored. She longs to find out why her mother was sad enough to kill herself - was it a person? a particular event? - but, of course, there is no why. Depression is the reason in itself, and expecting it to make sense is asking too much of its sufferers.

    It's just a beautifully-written (but not over-written) and deeply moving book. The only thing I didn't love was the romance with Axel. There’s nothing wrong with it, exactly, and it avoids the usual YA tropes, but it felt unnecessary. Why do we need a romance in here? We have a heartbreaking story of loss, grief, depression, family and identity, all in a beautifully-imagined Taiwanese setting. We just didn’t need a romance, too. But this is a small complaint for an otherwise really impressive debut.

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  • Lola

    4.5 stars.

    Some books you read because they’re not unpleasant or you don’t have a choice in the matter.

    Other books you read because your body naturally gravitates to them, and for the sake of your sanity, you simply give in.

    This is one of those books. The writing is so evocative that you will feel the intensity of everything the main character goes through to the marrow of your bones and be able to picture it all in your mind like a movie.

    Normally, a story this long and slow would take me aroun

    4.5 stars.

    Some books you read because they’re not unpleasant or you don’t have a choice in the matter.

    Other books you read because your body naturally gravitates to them, and for the sake of your sanity, you simply give in.

    This is one of those books. The writing is so evocative that you will feel the intensity of everything the main character goes through to the marrow of your bones and be able to picture it all in your mind like a movie.

    Normally, a story this long and slow would take me around a week to finish. Unlike the majority of you think, I don’t read fast. At all. I just read… a lot. But even if this novel lacks actual action, its words are a kind of beautiful that makes you overlook weaknesses. And besides, it is character-driven and there’s nothing wrong about that.

    It’s also a magical realism story, but one that is in no way going to confuse you to the point where you’ll be tempted to give up on trying to understand the elements pertaining to the fantasy genre. Feng’s character is a bit funky, but other than that, I absolutely adored all characters and magical elements included here, especially the bird, of course.

    The author does a fantastic job of three-dimensionalizing Leigh and her deceased mother, Dory. More often than not, I feel little connection to fictional people that passed away before I had gotten a chance to know them, but because we learn about Dory’s past gradually, the author going back to the root of the family drama, I couldn’t help but sympathize and understand what she went through.

    Not only that, but the author never romanticizes depression or mental illness in general. There are, as mentioned, unrealistic elements, but these are tied to Leigh’s reaction to her mother’s death and the latter’s wish for her daughter to be exposed to her family history, something she was denied in the past.

    Waves of happiness are running through me as I’m pondering the fact that this is a debut. This means that, logically speaking, more books from this author are to come! And isn’t that one strong reason to look forward to the future?

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  • Jesse (JesseTheReader)

    I'm kind of in awe of this book. It was beautifully written and it both broke and mended my heart.

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