Title: The Astonishing Colour Of After
Author: Emily X.R. Pan
Genre: Young Adult: Contemporary Magical Realism
Format: Paperback ARC
Publication Date: March 22nd 2018
My Rating: 4/5 stars
Leigh Chen Sanders is sixteen when her mother dies by suicide, leaving only a scribbled note: ‘I want you to remember’. Leigh doesn’t know what it means, but when a red bird appears with a message, she finds herself travelling to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time.
Leigh is far away from home and far away from Axel, her best friend, who she stupidly kissed on the night her mother died – leaving her with a swell of guilt that she wasn’t home, and a heavy heart, thinking she may have destroyed the one good thing left in her life.
Overwhelmed by grief and the burden of fulfilling her mother’s last wish, Leigh retreats into her art and into her memories, where colours collide and the rules of reality are broken. The only thing Leigh is certain about is that she must find out the truth. She must remember.
With lyrical prose and magical elements, Emily X.R. Pan’s stunning debut novel alternates between past and present, romance and despair, as one girl attempts to find herself through family history, art, friendship, and love.
I received an ARC for this from Hachette Australia, in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are mine alone.
Before I start off this review, I’m going to say this book’s cover is GORGEOUS. If I had the time, I would stare at it all die and take bookstagram photos of it constantly.
I think this is Emily X.R. Pan’s debut novel, however, I found that her writing was well-versed and easy to get into and I couldn’t tell that this was her first published novel. The book has short chapters, which I came to appreciate because it made the reading experience seem much quicker and it was easy to put down the book when I needed to do something (I like finishing a chapter before putting a book down). I haven’t read a book with short chapters in a while, so this was a nice change of format. The first paragraph is able to immediately capture the reader’s interest, and keep them wanting to read on.
Leigh’s character was interesting and her voice was likable and relatable. I found it unique how she and Axel named the emotions they felt, based on colours. And not just basic colours, like red or blue, but like a description of the colour and where you’d find it. Though I liked Leigh in general, I found her to be annoying at times, but I guess it was mostly because of her trying to cope with her grief.
I enjoyed reading about Leigh and her relationships with the people around her. We see how, over a couple of weeks, a strong relationship was developed between Leigh and her grandparents, whom she met for the first time in the duration of this novel. We also see Leigh and her father mending broken fences and trying to strengthen their bond, especially after the tragedy they’d faced. At first, I wasn’t sure what to think about Axel, who is Leigh’s best friend. But I gradually came to like him and was happy for the ending between them. Honestly, their friendship is so sweet realistic.
I don’t know how I feel about the magic side of things within this novel. Sometimes it worked, but at other times, I found it to be strange, and the reactions that Leigh had towards them were, in my opinion unrealistic. I don’t know, I just felt like it was hard to comprehend the magic within a contemporary world.
The story is told in the present, but has many flashbacks into Leigh’s childhood/past few years and her family’s past, which gives us an insight into Leigh’s family. I felt that some of the flashbacks were unnecessary and didn’t contribute much to the present day plot she was facing. Some parts of the novel also left me a bit confused and unsatisfied, but I’ll let you guys be the judge of that (don’t want to spoil anything for you guys).
I think Emily X.R. Pan explored the grief aspect of this story well, though I can’t be certain as I’ve never experienced such emotions, however, I was pleased that the story did not focus on Leigh’s feelings and relationship between Axel and herself. Like I mentioned before, the ending was good, because Leigh was able to learnt to deal with her grief by herself and did not rely on Axel, showing that she is at least independent.
Much of the novel also explores the culture of Taiwan, as this is the first time Leigh has visited Taiwan. This book is own voices, so I would assume that much of the information about the culture is fairly accurate, but I cannot say for certain. Either way, it was nice to read a story which allowed me to have an insight into the Taiwanese culture.
Overall, I enjoyed the book and would highly recommend it, especially since this month is Asian Heritage month and it’d be a good read for May. I look forward to any future works that Emily X.R. Pan may have planned.
Have you read this one? If not, are you planning to?