Where do I even begin? I was immediately drawn to this book because of the main character who is biracial (half-white, half-Asian) like myself. Little did I know what a wild and heartfelt journey this book would be.
The great thing is that I won this review copy from a giveaway hosted by TheNovl. I was completely shocked when it came because 1) I never win anything, and 2) little did I think it would be one of my most anticipated releases of 2018!
Title: The Astonishing Color of After
Author: Emily X.R. Pan
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Expected release date: March 20, 2018
Length: 480 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Young adult, contemporary, magical realism
Synopsis: (via Goodreads) “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.”
TRIGGER WARNINGS: Suicide, depression, self-harm
I have a confession: I don’t really like magical realism. I mean, it’s not a genre I normally gravitate toward like I do fantasy. But I think I’ll soon stick my foot in my mouth because when magical realism is done well, I will eat. It. Up. (As I did with The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender a few years ago.) The fantastic thing with this book is I did just that. It was a joy to return to this book over and over again.
Emily’s writing is beautiful, lush, full of imagery and packed with emotion. It was lovely to follow Leigh and experience a new world with her with her grandparents in Taiwan. We see Leigh struggle through her mother’s suicide, and how she uses various mediums to help her cope with the pain. Her journey in Taiwan was perfect and exactly what she needed–to be able to connect with the family she’s never met until this very moment. Even though there was a language barrier between Leigh and her grandparents, she worked through it (with some help from her father and a new friend) and we see how she builds a relationship with her grandparents, mends the one with her father, and returns to the one she has with her best friend, Axel.
Personally, I don’t know what it’s like to lose someone to suicide. I know what it’s like to be the one with suicidal thoughts, though, and it’s always incredibly heartbreaking to watch someone go through that like Leigh’s mother, Dory. What’s even worse is that in many Asian communities, you just don’t talk about mental illness. Quite frankly, you really just don’t talk about your feelings, and if you do, sometimes people often push it aside. I think that’s what happened a bit with Dory and her parents, along with a variety of other issues. It’s evident some traditional, cultural expectations were put on Dory by her parents, and we don’t see the outcome of that until later.
It’s so fortunate that Leigh was able to see parts of her grandparents’ and parents’ past. I think that’s what makes this book so endearing and so hopeful. Leigh thinks she is left in the dark, but she finds a little bit of hope and answers, the latter which most people never find about their lost loved one.
I loved the interweaving of art and music throughout the book, too.
But that doesn’t mean I found some parts disconcerting. I really didn’t like Leigh’s father until closer to the end. He did some really crappy things, and I’m unsure if I can reconcile his actions, and if he was simply acting that way due to his lack of being able to cope with the loss of his wife. It was really frustrating reading some demeaning parts in regards to his daughter’s hobbies. But some of the later revelations about the connections he held together were really heartfelt.
I will praise this book for capturing so well what it felt like to be biracial. Even though I’m not Taiwanese, I was able to relate to a variety of situations and observations Leigh made. I haven’t read many books with biracial characters as the main characters, and like I said in the beginning, it’s the first thing that attracted me to this book. I’m glad I wasn’t disappointed.
Please go pre-order this book from either Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Book Depository (this link is to the U.K. edition), IndieBound, or other booksellers. If you order here, you can get a signed copy! There’s still time to submit your receipt for some amazing pre-order goodies here! I mean, LOOK AT HOW GORGEOUS EVERYTHING IS.