My Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.
Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.
Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.
Astonishing Color handles suicide and depression quite well. Leigh’s mother Dory was never written as being ‘broken’ or ‘at fault.’ She was receiving medical care and was supported by her immediate family. I was not a huge fan of the magical realism in this story but I think that’s more about a personal preference than anything else. I also wish that the secondary story, about Leigh and Axel’s changing relationship, wasn’t present. I read this as a story about loss and grief in one family. Each time Pan cut to a memory of Leigh and Axel the plot became disjointed. This storyline felt unnecessary to the central themes.
Leigh and her parents felt very real to me. Their family dynamic genuinely reflected a family that loved one another but also was unsure how to handle some shifting circumstances. It was very clear that Leigh was surrounded by people who loved her but also had their own ideas about what was best for her.
I really enjoyed learning so much about Taiwan and Taiwanese culture. Taiwan is not often a setting in books, particularly YA books, so this was a pleasant change. It was great to learn more about Taiwan through Leigh, who was getting to know more about her family and history for the first time. I also appreciated the frank depiction of being mixed race and the uncomfortable microaggressions faced on a frequent basis. As someone who is also mixed race, I recognized the racist and inappropriate questions, stares, and insults Leigh faced.
Overall, I liked this book but I wouldn’t read it again. I had a hard time connecting with the plot and the characters because of my own backstory. My mother died several years ago and I was unable to get on board with some of the magical realism in this story as a result. I did enjoy the colorful writing, exploration of a new culture, and the focus on mental health. I don’t think I would recommend this to someone who was young when their parent died, but otherwise I would recommend this book. It’s worth noting here that this book is incredibly well reviewed on Goodreads and I am clearly of the minority opinion.
This book is…
full of magical realism
a coming of age story
This book contains content warnings for…
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Genre: young adult
Page Count: 472
Available here from IndieBound.
Have you read The Astonishing Color of After? What book about refugees would you recommend?