Book Review: The Astonishing Color of After

I saw the stain after they removed my mother, after someone had made the first attempt at cleaning it out of the carpet. Even then it was still dark and wide, oblong and hideous. Barely the shape of a mother.

It’s easier to pretend the stain is acrylic paint. Pigment, emulsion. Water soluble until it dries.

The one part that’s hard to pretend about: Spilled paint is only ever an accident.

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan is one of the most beautifully written books, especially within YA Lit, that I’ve read in a very long time. In the beginning, I set out with the intention to capture beautifully crafted sentences I came across, but I soon realized that there were so many beautifully crafted sentences that I would basically be transcribing the entire book.

The story follows Leigh, a young Asian American trying to cope with life after her mother’s suicide. Convinced that her mother has come back to her in the form of a red-plumed bird, Leigh follows a box of trinkets left on her doorstep to Thailand, her mother’s native country. While there, she relives memories, both her own and those of her Thai family. These memories teach her about who she is, who her mother was, and why her family has experienced this tragic loss.

Pan does an amazing job of painting the picture of Leigh’s heartbreaking new reality…reading Pan’s writing is a synesthetic experience, and such a beautiful experience it is! I couldn’t help being continually and pleasantly surprised by the vivid pictures erupting in my mind with each and every scene.

This book is an amazing read for students who have lost a loved one, whether to suicide or some other tragedy. It shows that suicide is an illness, and one that no one experiences alone. It also shows the complexities that lead to such a decision, as well as the ramifications for those left behind.

I give The Astonishing Color of After a full five stars. A debut novel, I can’t wait to see what else this author has in store.

The plane angles and tilts, and I fight the gravitational force, leaning to press my face into the glass. I catch a glimpse of the clouds below, and the edge of our shadow upon them, shaped like a bird.

–Cheylyn

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