YA Review: The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

Posted April 25, 2021 by Richetta in #ownvoices, Book Reviews, Young Adult / 0 Comments

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The start of this book is what caught me. It wasn’t long into it that I realized that despite Leigh, the main character, denying any connection to William Faulkner that she was indeed wrong. Emily X.R. Pan took Faulkner’s technique to the next level. I loved the structure of this story that goes from the past to the present and back again and I never even as much as stumbled along the way. (And that says a lot because I first read this via audiobook.) This was an awesome debut novel!

Leigh Sanders is a half Taiwanese and half white teenager whose mother suffered from depression for an extended period of time before she committed suicide. She feels guilty as she grieves because the same day that her mother died she was kissing her best friend Axel. Her grief sends her on a journey to meet her maternal grandparents, chase after the bird who is her mother, and learn about secrets in her family’s past.

This book is about navigating mental health and grief. Grieving a loved one, grieving a broken family, grieving what could have been and what should have been. It is so befitting that Pan chooses color as one of the main devices for helping her main characters, who are teenagers, express their feelings to each other. And it is amazing and moving the way Pan creates the juxtaposition of vibrant colors versus what one might feel is the absence of color when death, in this case suicide occurs.

“My mother is a bird. This isn’t like some William Faulkner stream-of consciousness metaphorical crap. My mother. Is literally. A bird.”

The Astonishing Color of After

The magical realism is superbly interwoven into the narrative and reminded me of one of Toni Morrison’s works, Song of Solomon. The bird, the ghosts and the time traveling are all so believable that you almost forget that it they are magical elements and not real ones. Ok, I have some additional gushing. I loved this book and it should be considered a classic. If I was in the classroom I would either teach it or have book clubs as well as put it in my classroom library.

Would I Read it Again? Yeeeeeeeesssssssssssss absolutely! I loved the audio version, when I wasn’t listening to it via audiobook, I would pick up where I left off in my hard copy.

Educator Recommended: Yes. It deals with a mother’s depression and suicide as well as the family’s grief. But you can definitely tell that this author is a scholar of some of the great writers such as Toni Morrison and William Faulkner. I would use with an 11th or 12th grade class. It would be a good candidate for AP Literature.

I received a free hard copy of this book from the publisher at the ALAN Workshop.

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