I went in to this book knowing nothing about it other than it had a stunning cover ,and my best friend loved it (along with many other people on the ‘gram). Honestly, this was pretty much all the motivation I needed to pick it up and I’m pretty glad I did.
The Astonishing Colour of After is Emily X.R. Pan’s debut novel and she’s done an incredible job of weaving together culture, memory, depression, and growing up in this fantastical setting.
The story follows Leigh, a sixteen-year-old artist, as she comes to terms with the loss of her mother to suicide. Guided by a red bird she believes to be her mother, Leigh travels to Taiwan with her father to meet her grandparents and it’s there that she finds herself in a world of ghosts and the memories of her family. She explores this surreal world where her art and grief have collided, searching for what her mother meant when she left that scribbled note – I want you to remember.
I didn’t really know what to expect when I cracked this book open, and I have to admit that I wasn’t super prepared for the world Pan created with this novel. I was expecting more of a contemporary read, and what I got was this fusion of surrealism-contemporary set in a culture completely unlike my own. I started slow but ended up being completely sucked in by this fantastical vision Pan created with the book.
It’s clear reading this book that the author has had first-hand experience of losing a family member to depression, and struggled with the stigma surrounding what is a chillingly common disease that we brush over much too often. The grief she conjures in her words, and the ways Leigh and her father grapple with the loss of Dory, is heart-breakingly real. This book is a breath of fresh air in the ways we look at mental illnesses and it definitely brought the tears.
Pan also explores the struggles of growing up mixed-race, and never truly feeling like you belong fully in one place. While it’s a less prominent theme in the book, it’s expertly woven in through Leigh’s eyes as she talks about interactions she’s had with her peers at school (e.g. being called ‘exotic’ when she’s grown up in America just like them), and struggles with her regret of not pushing her parents to continue teaching her Mandarin or Taiwanese, as her time in Taiwan becomes a stark reminder of the culture she’s lost. It’s an emotion I don’t personally relate to but growing up in Australia with its broad cultural background reminds me that this is a feeling I imagine many of my friends grew up knowing all too well.
Rating: This was a lyrical story exploring grief, culture, and mental health. Unlike anything I’ve read before, I’d definitely recommend giving this amazing debut novel a read.
AU Release Date: 20 March 2018
Publisher: Orion Children’s Books (Hachette Imprint)
Have you read The Astonishing Colour of After? What did you think?
Or, what’s your favourite debut novel?
Until next time,