*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*
Title: The Astonishing Color of After
Author: Emily X. R. Pan
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 20, 2018
Synopsis from 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.
The Astonishing Color of After is a vivid, emotional, and beautiful account of a young girl dealing with and learning to cope with grief after her mother commits suicide. This story is about Leigh who is undergoing a period of self-discovery leading up to and following her mother’s death. She is learning who she is as a young woman in terms of her heritage and culture, her friendships and familial relationships, her direction in life, and so on. Throughout this story she is learning to cope with the idea of her mother giving up her own life and she is processing what depression looked like in their household as she processes and reflects on old memories. Leigh must learn to forgive her self, her father, her mother, and even her maternal grandparents. She discovers dark truths of the past and how those have shaped the present that all of the characters are attempting to comprehend.
Leigh is this vibrant individual who is one of the most perfectly written teenagers that I’ve encountered in fiction. Well-rounded in terms of her flaws and her “human-ness,” she’s perfectly imperfect. In the memories she has, we see her struggle with her feelings and emotions surrounding her friend Axel, her rebellion against a father who loves her but doesn’t understand her passion for art, her fear at not knowing what her future will look like, and her struggle to understand what’s happening with her mother. In her present, we see her grapple with the past to try and make sense of how her life came to be what it is now, and to reach a sense of closure and forgiveness for all the mistakes that were made, whether intentional or not. In connecting with her family and really scrutinizing her past through a contemplative lens, Leigh matures and finds a sense of solace and direction her her world.
I think this is an absolute must read for young adults. Pan addresses issue of mental illness, self-awareness, self-care, and coming of age with a breath-taking sense of reality. Her story is evocative and substantial. Although it is a story about grieving and loss, in its essence, it is really a gorgeous story of hope and forgiveness. It shows that when there is loss, not all is lost. Healing and growth are both possible in the aftermath of tragedy. Pan shows the importance of feeling emotion, but also the significance of seeking healing and looking to the future. If I could recommend any YA novel that I’ve read so far this year, this would be my top pick.