The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan
First Line: My mother is a bird.
Summary: Coping with her mother’s suicide, Leigh is shocked when she learns her mother has transformed into a red bird. She and her dad set off to visit her grandparents for the first time in Taiwan and find the bird. There, Leigh unravels her family history and tries to reconcile having kissed her long-time best friend Axel the day her mother died.
My Thoughts: I love this book. Emily X. R. Pan crafts lyrical prose while also retaining a decidedly distinct teen voice for her protagonist, Leigh. This book gives a nuanced portrayal over grief, family dynamics, and mental health, all while encompassing it within Taiwanese cultural norms. It resonates deeply with rich emotion and themes, which are enhanced by the deftly incorporated fantasy elements. Leigh’s character and feelings are also elegantly rendered through the use of color and art pigment. Though the amount of flashbacks surprised me and almost felt like they could have been better balanced out at times rather than clustered together, these flashbacks added depth to each character and relationship. It is the relationships that pulse at the heart of the book, both deeply-felt yet authentic with its natural dialogue. This works both for the brewing romance between Leigh and long-time best friend Axel and the relationships within Leigh’s family.
Captivating with many layers, The Astonishing Color of After is a beautiful book about family and grief through the realistic lense of a sixteen-year-old girl. It resonates with poignance and hope.