THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER BY EMILY X.R. PAN - BOOK REVIEW

I had heard so many great things about this book that I was a little bit nervous going in - you never know if they'll live up to the hype. Luckily, however, this book exceeded my expectations!

Hello everyone!


I am back with another book review, today it is The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan. Thanks so much to Hachette Book Group Canada for providing me with an ARC for an honest review, as always, all opinions are my own.


The story follows Leigh, who is grappling with her mother's suicide. After her death, Leigh sees a bird and is sure it is her mother, leading her on a journey to meet her maternal grandparents. Leigh knows almost nothing about her grandparents or her mother's childhood, her mother never talked about it. Following her bird/mother, Leigh and her father get on a plane and go to Taiwan to see them. She tries to learn more about her mother while haunted by the memory of that day - when she finally got up the courage to kiss her longtime crush and best friend Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Firstly, I want to talk about the writing style of this book because it is an extremely ambitious story to tell, there are many layers of flashbacks and memories, as well as creating a unique narrative voice with Leigh. I think Pan does a great job of both these things. I would say the story is told in three ways; one being the present storyline, a collection of flashbacks from when Leigh started high school to senior year, and a selection of memories that Leigh induces with the (semi-magical) incense she burns.

Each of these pieces come together beautifully and seamlessly. They connect really well together and there are no memories or events that felt out of place, everything seemed to have a purpose. The writing itself was lyrical and poignant. Leigh is an artist and constantly thinking in colours, which I think was something Pan incorporated really well. I'm not sure if she has full on synesthesia, but the use of colour as descriptor really helped pull the story together.

I also liked that despite the (minor) romance in this book, it didn't take over the story. It was still about Leigh trying to find her mother but we also got to see other, more happy parts of her life. I think it also helps that Pan was able to create some amazing chemistry between the two and I'm always a sucker for a friendship-turned-more situation.

This book also takes an important look at mental illness and suicide. It's not often you get a YA book that revolves around the suicide of someone other than a teen, so that was an interesting look into not only how one deals with the loss of someone, but also a parent. In the author's note, Pan said that it was important to her Leigh's mother not have a 'reason' for her depression. I think this was an interesting take because so often we try to pinpoint one moment that causes everything, and so often with mental illness that's not how it works.

My only real issue with this book would be that sometime around the middle, things felt a little tedious. Not a lot was happening plot-wise, and I think I was just getting a bit distracted. That being said, the last half did pick up and had some really powerful moments, so I'm glad I pushed through.

Overall, a poignant and diverse new look at an important issue.