Publication date : October 13th, 2017
Publisher : Little Brown Books | Penguin Random House
Genre : Young Adult |Magical Realism
Page Count: 462
Synopsis : 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. (From Goodreads)
CW: Suicide, suicidal thoughts, depression, insomnia, grief, death of a sibling
This book. This book has broken me in so many ways and I’m still trying to piece myself back together. I can’t remember a book that has had this same effect on me, it stirred something in me that I can’t put a name on and has left an imprint on my heart that I don’t think will ever fade. I’ve been meaning to read it for over a year now but I had hyped it up so much for myself that I was scared to pick it up, which I feel silly about now because never in a million years did I expect this, The Astonishing Color of After exceeded my expectations by far.
The opening sentence of this book is one of the strongest I’ve ever read, it immediately sucked me into the story. The writing in general is absolutely magical, the way the author strings words, sentences and paragraphs is so skillful, I was thoroughly impressed, a lot of it would be so perfect and spot on that it would feel like a punch in the gut -in the best way. There was also the fact that she gave such a huge importance to colors, she would describe certain feelings and events exclusively in a certain shade and it would just…make sense.
I buddy read this one with Em @ Runaway with Dream Thieves and we were exchanging long voice notes and snaps just talking about the book and I was trying to piece together how the book made me feel and I dawned on me, I said “This book reads just like depression feels like ” and honestly I can’t think of a better way to describe it, it has this kind of really heavy blanket of sadness and grief over it. The book alternates between present flashbacks and memories and even when those are happy, knowing that Leigh’s mom dies by suicide at the end of it all makes it feel like robbed slices of happiness.
The Astonishing Color of After at its core is a story of identity, as she goes to Taiwan and tries to pieces together what went wrong for her mom, Leigh ends up finding herself along the way, through grief, and family, and friendship, and first love. Yes, the suicide plays a huge part in the story, it’s what made Leigh go to Taiwan, to meet her family, to connect with her culture, etc… but it is such a multi-layered well rounded story that goes beyond that. The more I read the more I found myself unveiling new layers of the story, deeper ones, that I never thought would be there.
When you read a book that has mental illness as a major theme and you learn that it has magic, it can make you apprehensive that it would be a mess of explaining the illness with magic but it’s not the case for this book. Magical realism and mental health coexist without there ever being any kind of direct correlation between the two. With a little magical help, as well as getting to know her grandparents, Leigh retraces her mother’s life from a young age to her death, trying to pinpoint what went wrong and maybe what *she* did wrong while also dealing with mundane teen girl things like being in love with her best friend and trying to figure out that relationship as well.
Speaking of relationships, the way all sorts of relationships were explored in this book was absolutely amazing. Leigh’s relationship with her mom, dad, best friend, grandparents and even a mysterious person she met in Taiwan. Her mom’s relationships with her own parents, her husband, her sister, etc… These were all so wonderfully well done with a great attention to detail that I got invested in every single one of them.
Leigh is a biracial girl whose dad is white american and mom is taiwanese and seeing her explore that was both heartbreaking and like a breath of fresh air, how she was sometimes fetishized in the US and seen as a foreigner in Taiwan, she felt lost and like she didn’t really belong in either, especially going to Taiwan, not knowing the language and feeling like a stranger with her own grandparents because of the language barrier. She’s such a great character, strong, passionate and determined, yet still unsure and struggling. She has such a huge love for art, which explains the importance of color in the whole story.
I feel like I have so much more to say about the book but I can’t put it into words, I have this feeling of inadequacy about not being able to convey how much The Astonishing Color of After means to me. And I’m pretty sure this review is a mess. But oh well, I adore this book.
That’s it until next time.
Did you read The Astonishing Color of After? If so, what did you think?
Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.