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

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.

My Thoughts:

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.

Wrap Up:

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…

imaginative

colorful

slow-moving

full of magical realism

a coming of age story

This book contains content warnings for…

suicide

depression

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Genre: young adult

Page Count: 472

ISBN: 031646399X

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read The Astonishing Color of After? What book about refugees would you recommend?

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Review: The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

My Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

He was the first person to inspire her, to move her, to truly understand her. Was he meant to be the last?

Lucy is faced with a life-altering choice. But before she can make her decision, she must start her story—their story—at the very beginning.

Lucy and Gabe meet as seniors at Columbia University on a day that changes both of their lives forever. Together, they decide they want their lives to mean something, to matter. When they meet again a year later, it seems fated—perhaps they’ll find life’s meaning in each other. But then Gabe becomes a photojournalist assigned to the Middle East and Lucy pursues a career in New York. What follows is a thirteen-year journey of dreams, desires, jealousies, betrayals, and, ultimately, of love. Was it fate that brought them together? Is it choice that has kept them away? Their journey takes Lucy and Gabe continents apart, but never out of each other’s hearts.

My Thoughts:

This book is difficult to review. I enjoyed aspects of it but also felt other parts of this book were blown out of proportion. The plot of this book and its overall premise are mediocre. Although many people lose their first love, I imagine that very few people are unable to let them go. Lucy’s immaturity and obsession with Gabe felt very unrealistic to me. Despite years passing and her eventual long term relationship with someone else, Lucy remains absurdly committed to Gabe. This choice by Santopolo felt like a slap in the face to anyone who has ever loved more than one person. It’s particularly bizarre to me that Santopolo preferred the Lucy/Gabe relationship over the Lucy/Darren one, despite Lucy and Gabe breaking up for very real and reasonable reasons. Absolutely none of these characters were perfect or very deserving of one another.

This book was needlessly long but somehow also very quick to read. To be quite honest, I skimmed the last fifty or so pages. I’d heard that the ending was quite the tearjerker, which I think affected how I read the ending. I went into this book knowing it had a sad ending and therefore could not be caught off guard by how this book ends. That being said, I thought the ending of this book was manipulative. Santopolo made unnecessary choices in order to make the ending as devastating as possible, despite the book now feeling like a soap opera.

What I did appreciate about this book was how Santopolo played out some difficult conversations between the main characters. Lucy struggled with how to balance her relationships with her career, how to focus on her dreams, and how to balance all of that with motherhood. For me, this was the most realistic and honest part of the book. No one is a pro at these types of conversations but they are, nonetheless, necessary to have.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I liked this book. I think I was in the right mindset to read it and appreciated some of the themes that Santopolo writes about. But I also did not think this book was worth the hype and was ultimately let down. If you’re looking for a very quick and easy to read book, look no further. Otherwise, I would not recommend this book.

This book is…

predictable

thought provoking

a quick read

manipulative

frustrating

Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons

Genre: literary fiction

Page Count: 338

ISBN: 0735212767

Available here from Book Depository.

Have you read The Light We Lost? What book did you read this weekend?

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