Title: The Astonishing Colour of After by Emily X.R Pan
Publisher: Orion Children’s Books
Publication date: 22 March 2018
Genre: Magical realism | Young Adult | Contemporary
Page extent: 480 pages
Goodreads blurb: When Leigh’s mother dies by suicide she leaves only a scribbled note – I want you to remember.
Leigh doesn’t understand its meaning and wishes she could turn to her best friend, Axel – if only she hadn’t kissed him and changed everything between them.
Guided by a mysterious red bird, Leigh travels to Taiwan to meet her grandparents for the first time. There, Leigh retreats into art and memories, where colours collide, the rules of reality are broken and the ghosts of the past refuse to rest …
But Leigh is determined to unlock her family’s secrets.
Content warnings: suicide, suicidal ideation, depression, hallucinations, insomina
Wow. Sometimes you read a book so unique, so different it’s extremely different to write about. The Astonishing Colour of After was utterly unlike anything I’ve ever read – it was an artistic masterpiece, of colour, of music, of emotion.
Leigh’s mother has just committed suicide, leaving a note saying ‘I want you to remember’. When Leigh’s mother appears to her as a bright red bird, she is drawn to visit Taiwan, connect with the grandparents she has never met and to try find the bird. Told through a series of memories following her family, flashbacks to her friendship with best friend Axel, and present time following her grandparents and mysterious woman Feng, Leigh discovers her family and learns how to deal with grief.
This book was such a beautiful tale, and I really don’t think I will be able to express how unique it is in a review. But I shall try! The prose is really the absolute star. Told using art and colour to express emotion, the book reads wonderfully mysterious and dreamlike. It is absolutely stunning, and I adored the how the language of colour was used to associate both people, memories as well as the crumbling mental state of Leigh as she tried to deal with her grief. The effects of insomnia told through colours – cracks of deepest black slowly encroaching across Leigh’s sight – was fantastic.
It’s emotionally hard-hitting, particularly the later half of the book and the scenes between Leigh and her father, who also is struggling with feelings of guilt and grief in the wake of his wife’s suicide. Their relationship is fraught with the pain of the years her father spent absent, of his push to give up the art Leigh uses to escape, and the family secrecy which is only coming to light after the death of her mother. The resolution and growth of the relationship between Leigh and her father was just beautiful to see and was so emotive.
The Astonishing Colour of After is astonishing in its complexity and its beauty. With such an honest look at the impact of mental illness, of the grief and guilt that comes after, and with such a stunning use of language, this book was a brilliantly unique read.
Rach + Draco