“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.” (via Goodreads)
Pan is less interested in the reality of Leigh’s experience than in the truths she comes to because of it. It doesn’t so much matter whether or not she really can see visions of the past. What matters is what she learns, what she does, what she becomes afterward. Leigh believes her mother is a bird. It’s not up to us to question the bird’s existence. All we need to do is follow Leigh down her path.
Through Leigh, Pan takes a long, difficult look at what it’s like to be left behind when someone you love dies. Thankfully she steers clear of victim-blaming or psychoanalyzing Leigh’s mother. She suffers from profound depression until she can no longer carry the weight. It happens, and it’s hard, but I think it’s important to shine a light on it. Fiction can help us deal with the unbearable and provide context for the unfathomable. Pan doesn’t shy away from the awfulness of Dory’s death. She doesn’t sugarcoat or gloss over, nor does she wallow or ogle. She offers little in the way of explanation for why Dory does what she does, but so goes life. We live in a world that rarely gives easy answers; sometimes it’s enough just to ask the question…
To read the rest of my review of The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, head over to Tor.com.
I thought I would be able to sleep after tonight, but instead all I can think about is that feather, and ghosts, and other dimensions. And what’s real.
I see colors in the dark now. Sometimes they form shapes, or even faces. Sometimes they get angry with me, turn a dirty, boiling crimson. Sometimes they try to soothe me, drawing themselves like crystals in a pale dusty blue.
I don’t even have to close my eyes. The colors are just there, floating above me, like little truth tellers. Wherever my thoughts go, they follow.
Thanks to Little, Brown for sending me a review copy.
Do the world a favor and buy this book from your local indie bookstore or borrow it from your public library.