Title: The Astonishing Colour of After
Author: Emily X. R. Pan
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Hachette Australia in exchange for an honest review.
The Astonishing Colour of After is a marvel of a debut novel, beautifully crafted and infused with magic. The novel illustrates a moving portrait of mental illness, love, and loss. Reading the book is an experience that will break your heart, heal it, and leave it not quite the same afterwards.
Leigh’s mother committed suicide, and since her death, an elusive bird began appearing in her place. Driven to find answers, Leigh finds her way to Taiwan, the birthplace of her mother and home to her estranged grandparents. What unfolds is an intricate and layered story about generational memories and how they shape us. The way the novel plays out is part mystery, part memoir. Incense smoke, stray feathers, unsent mail, and half-forgotten memories, intertwine to compose a page-turning tale about discovery and identity.
The characterisation within this novel is excellent, especially when it comes to Leigh. Her struggles to connect with her grandparents and motherland, partly due to the language barrier, partly due to culture shock, is one I can deeply identify with although I am not biracial. Leigh’s instinctive and intimate knowledge of some of the Mandarin words and Taiwanese customs and cuisine, coupled with her wide-eyed wonder at other aspects of the country, felt vivid and well-portrayed. Leigh’s character and her experiences is one that will speak to many readers.
I love the themes of families within this novel. There’s the family members who have been there all your life, but do not see you for who you are despite loving you with all their heart. The family members who you’ve never met, but their journey has shaped your own in more ways than you realise. The family members who are not related to you by blood, but you claim them as your own regardless of such trivialities. All of these instances appeared in some form throughout the novel, and each are explored in depth and I felt a lasting emotional connection to every single one. For those who decry the lack of families within YA, this book is one for you.
Aside from the beautiful writing and heart wrenching themes, The Astonishing Colour of After also has one of the best iteration of the Friends to Lovers trope I have read in recent years. I am 100% invested and need all of the fanfiction right this moment.
The topics the book deals with are heavy, so I would counsel caution if you’re triggered by suicide and depression. At first, I was wary of the surrealist elements of the novel, worried that they may romanticise these issues. However, I felt the book handled these topics with sensitivity and respect. Despite talks of magic birds, ghosts, and shared vision, the novel felt firmly grounded when it dealt with suicide and mental illnesses.
The Astonishing Colour of After is also features a very diverse cast of characters. Aside from the biracial protagonist and her childhood friend, there’s also a happy wlw couple within this book. I would love to see a spin off featuring these two, especially with cameos from Caro’s lovable family!
Lastly, I have to give this book props for making me look up flights to Taipei, pronto. The descriptions in this book are visual and so enticing, it made me itch to travel. I was especially taken in by the descriptions of all the food, especially the xiao chi! Do not read this one on an empty stomach!
Have you read The Astonishing Colour of After? What did you think?