Tuesday, 15 May 2018

A Review of The Astonishing Color of After

The Astonishing Color of After is a book by Emily X.R. Pan. After Leigh Chen Sanders mother commits suicide, she travels to Taiwan to reconnect with her grandparents. Having seen her mother as a red bird, she is determined to find out what her mother wants her to remember. With her relationship with Axel, her best friend, becoming weird lately since she kissed him, getting away from home for a time might be exactly what she needs to help her process her grief.

A note: while my edition was titled The Astonishing Colour of After, within the main text the spelling 'color' was used. As this is a book by an American author, I have chosen to use the American English term.

This book is part magical realism, and part contemporary, part travel book and part book about dealing with grief. You will feel like you are wondering around night markets with Leigh and tasting the delicious food. I will say that I did feel disconnected from the grief part of the story. It didn't feel like the grief I experienced, but than, these were two different circumstances. Leigh's grief is different from my grief, and that's okay. I feel like I also didn't click with Leigh's desire to have a relationship with her grandparents. I barely knew my grandparents - most of them died when I was young - and it's never been anything I've wondered about, because I really didn't know any different.

Leigh did annoy me slightly, but only by making realistic choices I could see a teenager in her shoes making. For example, there was the way she treated Feng, who was only trying to help. Speaking of Feng, I did feel like she was more tied into Leigh's family mystery than she actually seemed, but I didn't guess who she actually was. And I just wanted to shake Leigh and tell her to actually talk to Axel.

I always feel it is important to mention that I am no expert on suicide and depression. I did like how here, depression was named and how Leigh's mother didn't necessarily have reasons to commit suicide. To an outside viewer, she had a good life with a husband and daughter and a talent for the piano. She tried to get help with her depression, but it increasingly became harder to fight. Also, the points where she was getting help did seem to improve her somewhat, and she was off her medication at the end. We never find out why, but not all medication works in the same way for everyone. It can be a long process to find to right sort of help for yourself.

And the painting/art theme is super. I really love it when protagonists in YA have passions, and I really felt Leigh's coming through on the page. It was shown rather than told, and art is really hard to show in a written form since it relies so much on the visual. Pan uses her words to paint a picture in our minds of Leigh's drawings. In fact, most of the teens have something - Axel with music, Caro has her photography and Cheslin has fashion.

There are a few things that bothered me, though. One thing was the constant descriptions of feelings by using colour terms. They weren't common colours, either. Auerolin and indanthene blue are some of those that were used. Personally, they aren't colours I could call to mind if they are mentioned. Also, the chapters kept skipping time periods, sometimes in very quick sucession. One chapter would be in Leigh's present, then we'd be in the recent past, then back to Leigh's present for all of two paragraphs, to set up for us to see Leigh's grandmother as a young girl. There are a lot of chapters for a book this length - over 100 by the end.

I would recommend this book to those who enjoy YA travel books.


  1. I do want to read this one!! I've seen it get a lot of hype and love about the blogosphere but I'm also a bit nervous about how long it is haha. And I will be SO LOST at those colour names, wow. I mean those are pretty words but I guess I'd better keep google nearby?! 😂

    1. Thank you for your comment! Since the chapters are so short, the book is shorter than it looks. Also, yep, if you want to know what the colours are, I would suggest Googling!