“Once upon a time we were the standard colors of a rainbow, cheery and certain of ourselves. At some point, we all began to stumble into the in-betweens, the murky colors made dark and complicated by resentment and quiet anger. At some point, my mother slid so off track she sank into hues of gray, a world drawn only in shadows.”
This book hit me in the feels like a semi-truck.
Usually, I read good books at a faster pace, but I could only handle this book little bits at a time. It was so intense. Leigh’s mother struggles with depression, which hit so close to home. I have struggled with depression at times—including one point when I was reading this book, so I had to set it down for a week. But while it was difficult to read, after I read another book or two in-between, it was very well-written. And I like it when authors write a note at the end talking about mental illness instead of just leaving readers alone with the story.
Book: The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan
Genre: Magical Realism, Mental Illness, Contemporary, Young Adult
My rating: 4/5 stars
Awards: None (yet!)
One-word description: *internal screaming*
When I first opened the book, I found myself groaning like the kid from The Princess Bride: “Is this going to be a kissing book?”
The magical realism elements of the book were particularly mysterious. More than once, I was left wondering if Leigh wasn’t just imagining everything. Other times, she held physical evidence, and even though I’ve finished the book I still have my doubts. Magical realism, at the end, should leave readers wondering what’s real and what’s not, even if they’re used to reading fantasy, and the author, Pan, did a wonderful job!
The story takes place both in America and Taiwan, which I found to be excellent because usually multicultural books deal with one or the other. And Leigh was easy to relate with, as she loves her parents and her art, despite all the difficulties. Though there were times she wasn’t perfect, it actually made her easier to relate with.
I also particularly liked the book’s dialogue. At times, the characters spoke their minds but other times, they had difficulty speaking and communicating at all. Most often, I didn’t feel like I was reading a book at all. It felt so real.
However, there were times when the book got repetitive, repetitive, repetitive. I’m not sure repeating certain words again and again and again was really necessary, though I did like the use of the phrase “
you to remember”. Another problem I had was that I took so many breaks, I
actually started confusing this story’s characters with another story’s.
Reaching the end of the book was almost like the end of The Princess Bride:
Grandpa: And as they reached for each other... *closes book*
Grandson (aka ME): What? What?
Grandpa: Ah, it’s kissing again. You don’t want to hear that.
Grandson: I don’t mind so much.
Grandpa: Oh, okay. *continues reading*
In all, I gave The Astonishing Color of After 4/5 stars for an excellent story, well-developed characters, and great themes. I would recommend this book to fans of young adult books, magical realism, and accurate stories about mental illness. However, I would strongly caution readers who may struggle with depression and/or readers who know somebody who does. While this book addresses suicide and depression in such a way that had me silently thanking the author at the end, it can be rather intense.
Doesn’t The Astonishing Color of After sound intriguing? Have you read it yet? You might also enjoy these books: Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, Tell Me Something Real by Calla Devlin, and A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.
Let’s chat! Has The Astonishing Color of After made it to your to-be-read list yet? Anybody out there read it? Have any book recommendations featuring characters with mental illness?