The Astonishing Color of After

The Astonishing Color of After

by Emily X. R. Pan


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"Emily X.R. Pan's brilliantly crafted, harrowing first novel portrays the vast spectrum of love and grief with heart-wrenching beauty and candor. This is a very special book."—John Green, bestselling author of The Fault in Our Stars and Turtles All the Way Down

A stunning, heartbreaking debut novel about grief, love, and family, perfect for fans of Jandy Nelson and Celeste Ng.

An APALA Honor Book
A Walter Award Honor Book

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 stunning and heartbreaking novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316464017
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 03/19/2019
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 32,999
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.40(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

Emily X.R. Pan currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, but was originally born in the Midwestern United States to immigrant parents from Taiwan. She received her MFA in fiction from the NYU Creative Writing Program, where she was a Goldwater Fellow. She is the founding editor-in-chief of Bodega Magazine, and a 2017 Artist-in-Residence at Djerassi. The Astonishing Color of After is her first novel. Visit Emily online at, and find her on Twitter and Instagram:@exrpan.

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The Astonishing Color of After 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
BookPrincessReviews More than 1 year ago
I think I just have an issue with beautiful prose books with birds. When I read Shatter Me all those years ago, I took up a fight with the MC constantly talk about birds. Or seeing a bird. Or maybe being a bird? IDK, but it was a lot about birds. This? This was a lot about birds. And every time, our MC would mention it, I would have flashbacks and then I started imagining this book to be Shatter Me, and then it was a mess. I think this book had potential to be a lot more, and I can see why some people love it. However, I think I walked into this novel with a few different expectations along with not being fully preared for what I was bound to get. First, I didn't realize this book was magical realism. I've been sort of okay with magical realism in the past; however, I just thought maybe Leigh was translating her grief into her mother being bird and that would be it. However, when a lot of magical things started happening, it kind of threw me off. I felt like the magic would kind of pop in and out, and I really didn't understand the parameters around it. What was the limits of the magic? Why did no one question it? Was it just a given that her mom really was a bird? Second, pretty prose really isn't my jam. I believe Pan definitely has a way with words, and the descriptions that she created were wonderful. However, I'm more of a reader that just kind wants to move along. I definitely think readers that love vivid and intense descriptions will enjoy, but I felt like it was far too deep for me. The speed of the story gave me issue as well. It moved at a glacial speed. I usually don't mind stories that focus on characterization and inner journeys which was why I was so excited for this book. However, I felt every time I would get interested or invested in the story, I would instantly fall right out because it would just keep moving in circles and things I didn't understand/feel like I need to understand or know about. However, despite these huge issues, there were some very good parts that did keep me reading. The main character, Leigh, was good, and I did enjoy her voice. I liked a lot of the side characters, and the vibes of the story had a magical, whimsical feeling that I did enjoy yet also felt very grounded. The story also tackled very important issues in a very deep and beautiful way. The ship was very cute as well. Despite all the good things, I found the other issues to be too overpowering for me to truly enjoy. I think I was just not the right person for this story, but I think a lot of people that can appreciate gorgeous, flowery prose and magical realism and a slower pace will enjoy this story a LOT more. Also, um, I'm kind of scared of birds? 2 crowns and a Cinderella rating!
Jessica Zhou More than 1 year ago
Emily X.R. Pan’s The Astonishing Color of After beautifully incorporates colors to represent the indescribable emotions Leigh experiences as she journeys to find the memories her deceased mother exists in. The novel brings about a new perspective and voice, featuring an emphasis on Asian-American culture and strong incorporation of sensitive topics such as depression and suicide. At first glance, the novel offers perspective from 16-year old Leigh Chen Sanders, seeking to find her deceased mother (Dory) in the form of a bird. She journeys into Taiwan, exploring her mother's Taiwanese culture and heritage, desperate to find any last trace her mother has left her in the living world. Upon exploring her mother's past, she slowly begins to piece old memories of her mother together, which actually helps to indirectly reveal Dory's story. Once these memories begin to build, Pan does an impeccable job of highlighting Dory's battle with depression and how Leigh and her father respond each time. At first glance, these details seem insignificant, but the more in depth into the storyline the reader progresses, the more they begin to understand the impact of each one. The contrasting perspectives of the past (Dory) and the present (Leigh) adds together to fulfill an almost surreal storyline, bringing about the reality of depression, and the surrounding people it effects. The incorporated Asian culture and heritage brings about a new perspective and identity, even highlighting Leigh struggles to fit in with both of her cultures. The inclusion of familial matters showcase Dory's difficulty in communicating her emotions with the people she loves.  And all these components add together to help create a more open conversation about depression and communicating with those you love. The Astonishing Color of After provokes indescribable emotions, leaving readers touched and lingering for more as the novel comes to an end. Every reader that comes across it, walks away with stronger empathy for those hurting, more cautiousness in the words we choose to voice, and better awareness of taking care of the people we loved. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Absolutely beautiful, both heart-wrenching and heart-warming at the same time.
TheLiteraryPhoenix More than 1 year ago
One one hand, Emily X.R. Pan's debut it one part ghost story/one part magical realism and it is enchanting in that way. On the other hand, this is such a deep, touching novel about loss and grief and healing, which gives it it's own quiet, sad beauty that makes it come alive like a dew-kissed rose slowly fanning its petals open. It took me a few chapters to get accustomed to the pacing, but then the novel sunk its razor-sharp teeth into my heart, and I was whisked away. Pan's writing style is astonishing. She writes lyrically, but not so much so it takes away from the story. She's patient with her characters, and notices the soft elements of things that really help to bring the world to life. What stood out to me the most in the way she wrote this novel was that every single word felt steeped in sadness and color. Over and over again, Axel and Leigh ask one another "What color?" and while they rarely seem to answer one another out loud, Leigh always has colors tied to her emotions. The story is about healing and discovery, and Leigh is a stubborn character dead set on forging her own path for as long sash can, even though somewhere deep in the darkness of her mind, she knows its fruitless. The internal struggle in this book is real, and you will feel every desperate attempt to capture her mother. It's also beautiful to see Taiwan. In this way, the book is *not* written for someone like me, but I am grateful to be along for the journey. Taiwan through Leigh/Emily's eyes is a lovely place, culturally different than the United States where Leigh is from, and definitely a setting that is under-represented in YA. I really, really loved this book. It was sad enough to make me cry a bit, and sweet enough that I didn't want to let it go. I hope it tugs your heartstrings as much as it tugged mine.
PriceGirls More than 1 year ago
The Astonishing Color of After paints a imaginatively beautiful story about life, death, and re-birth by entwining all the colors of emotions experienced through grief and the hope that Taiwanese lore offers in their interpretation of rebirth and the after life. Emily X.R. Pan's ability to capture the pain in suffering a loss of a parent was extremely relatable and the emotional turbulence and the chaos that follows as the world one once knew crumbles seemed to be written by someone who has actually experienced that kind of a loss. Something that I very much appreciated as I have never came across a book where a character appeared to know what I had gone through in the aftermath of my Dad's passing. Admittedly, I at first thought Leigh was a brat because she always seemed to be in a bad mood, but upon reflection and further reading I came to the realization that her anger and her frustration were well founded as depression — even if it is not your own — can cause major isolation. The only thing that I did not quite care about, from someone who knows very little about colors, was how Leigh assigned random colors to express how she is feeling. But, by doing that I found it a little off putting as I could not feel completely immersed in the text as I was always trying to figure out what color she was mentioning and how that may have applied to her mood. Although I may not have been able to appreciate her artistic expression, I believe those who appreciate the arts will really love this book.
penpapersalt More than 1 year ago
The Astonishing Color of After is more than just a book. It's a eulogy. It's a love letter. It's a surrealist painting. It's really, really effing good. Emily X.R. Pan's debut novel follows Leigh, a Taiwanese American teenage whose mother Dory commits suicide and turns into a bird. If you're like me, when you read the jacket copy, you thought to yourself, "Well, this could go one of two ways. Maybe it's all symbolic. Maybe it's a dream thing. Not a literal bird." Nope, y'all. The first paragraph clears that right up. My mother is a bird. This isn't like some William Faulkner stream-of-consciousness metaphorical crap. My mother. Is literally. A bird. Leigh's journey takes her to Taiwan, to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time, and unravel the mystery of her bird-mother. Why is she a bird? What does she want from Leigh? Family secrets, old wounds, Leigh's very new romantic relationship with her best friend Axel - there's no shortage of excitement, mystery, and heartache to be found in this stunning story. I could talk for a long time about the many, many things I loved about this book. Obviously, I gave it Five Stars, so I consider it a masterpiece. And it really is, friends. Pan's writing is breathtaking. Her attention to language shines. It truly paints a picture, often literally, as Leigh is an artist. My writer gateway is also language, so I truly appreciated her diction, her deft imagery, and the rawness of her prose. Leigh hurts, in the heart, and you will too. This is not a quick read. Not just because it's 480 pages and not because it's dense in any way, it's just a story with a lot of deep, complicated feelings. Grief and suicide are both huge themes; neither of which should be treated lightly and I was glad that Pan gave every nuance of Leigh's emotional journey the weight it deserved. I'm normally a fast reader, but I found myself stopping every 50 or so pages just to go off to another room and think. On that note, if you're not a fan of slower, more thoughtful narratives, proceed with caution. This might not be for you. This is also not a light read. As I touched on above, this book deals with suicide. I have a number of close, personal experiences with suicide, and I absolutely think that's part of the reason why it took me so long to finish reading it. Sometimes, I had to walk away. Not because it's incredibly graphic or handles the subject matter with insensitivity, but because suicide is A Lot to deal with. Leigh asks big questions like, "Why did my mom kill herself when she was so loved? Did I not love her enough? Is it my fault?" So be prepared for that. Perhaps my favorite things about Astonishing is the magic. I consider this a work of magical realism because the magic is real. Leigh's mother is literally a bird. Leigh sees emotions as colors. Other characters see the bird. There's some memory-time-travel action. I'm in love with the way magic and grief interact: magic is not a known thing in this world. It's not like there's a whole flock of dead mom birds flyin' around. Leigh treats the appearance of the bird like a thing she very much can't explain, that's hard to talk about, that seems like it shouldn't be happening, but it is. And that's EXACTLY what losing a loved one feels like. As a reader, it's impactful. As a writer, I'm drooling. Read this book!
TheThoughtSpot More than 1 year ago
Family members left behind after a suicide face deep pain. Resources offering real help are included in this book! Thanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for the opportunity to read and review The Astonishing Color of After! The main character saw her mother’s suicide and believes that her mother has visited her as a bird. No one believes her even though she has physical evidence. Her and her father visit her maternal grandparents in Taiwan and even though they don’t speak much English, they believe that the bird is true. This book is difficult to categorize into a genre, but even though it has supernatural happenings throughout the story, I feel that this is still, above all, a realistic fiction tale. The deep pain that survivors of suicidal family members face is a real problem and an intense struggle that hasn’t been addressed as much as it’s needed. The Astonishing Color of After helps! Resources are included towards the end of the book for various needs of those dealing with depression, loss, suicide and/or suicidal thoughts. The resources are categorized under the following headings: Suicide Prevention, For Suicide Loss Survivors and Understanding Mental Illness. The cultural education and coping skills made the story more interesting and I love Axel and the great friend that he is to Leigh and I appreciate the author’s honesty about her own experiences of being a suicide survivor. 4 stars! * I received a complimentary copy of this book for voluntary review consideration.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found myself canceling plans to finish reading this book. Loved it!
syntactics More than 1 year ago
The Astonishing Color of After was at turns melancholy and exuberant, and entirely beautiful. It made me long for a place I'd never been and feel welcome in a family that isn't mine. It made my heart soar.
mindofabookdragon More than 1 year ago
I read this right before finals time. It was an incredible pick me up, and I’m so lucky to have found a copy collecting dust on my bookstore’s ARC shelf. It would have been a waste had it not been picked up immediately and read. Leigh is one of the most complex characters I’ve ever met, and I loved it so much. A large part of how Leigh communicates her feelings and even describes them to herself is through color. In bursts of great rainbows are we able to see the world in her eyes, and I loved the diverse nature of her perspective. Going back to your roots is hard when you don’t know much about them. There is so much she wants to learn, and she doesn’t know where to start with all of the covered up family history. One of the best parts of the book was the emotion. It was raw and painful with no holding back, and it was eloquently done. I could feel the emotion that Pan bled into the pages with each word. It was something that I can’t stop thinking about. With Leigh’s colors, emotions became as visually vibrant as they were abstractly. Leigh’s grief is what compels her to go to Taiwan. It is what brings her forward in her personal journey. The setting was gorgeous. I felt like I was wandering the Taiwanese markets with Leigh and her grandparents. I loved the detail and the dissonance that Leigh feels while being in Taiwan was something that spoke to me. Living as an Asian-American, there are a lot of expectations on both sides, both cultures. When you fail to meet one of them, there is a certain feeling of otherness as you try to straddle both sides but come short. I feel like this was well captured throughout the story. Art is another big aspect in this book for Leigh. It’s a source of healing and expression for her. I love that she persists to pursue her passion despite the tension between herself and her father. It shows that she is developing her beliefs and boundaries. There are things she’s willing to sacrifice and things she isn’t. This personal journey was thrilling and magical to be part of. I really hope you take part in it when it releases this March!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
vlangloisx3 More than 1 year ago
I am so grateful to have had the pleasure of reading and reviewing The Astonishing Color of After, an amazing debut that just completely blew me away. Seriously, it’s only March and I’ve found a 2018 favorite. And I mean, yes, though it is probably due to the fact that I related so much to the biracial main character, there was just so much more to it than that. The story revolves around Leigh, our half Taiwanese half white protagonist, whose mother recently took her own life. As Leigh struggles with her grief, she encounters a beautiful red bird. The bird, who Leigh believes to be her mother, directs her to a package filled with letters from her maternal grandparents addressed to her mom. From then on, Leigh is determined to meet both her grandparents for the first time, which she hopefully will lead to her finding her mother again. I don’t know how else to say this, but THIS WAS A BEAUTIFUL, BEAUTIFUL NOVEL. “My mother’s hands have turned to wings. Her hair, to feathers. Her pale complexion now red as blood, red as wine, every shade of every red in the universe.” The way the colors were embedded within sentences, the interweaving of magical elements into a cultural ghost story (if this makes any sense at all haha), the accuracy of being in a new place with no sense of belonging, all of these things were what made this novel a new favorite. I’m literally at a loss for words right now, so I’m just gonna use bullet points: - Other than Starfish, this novel accurately captures what it means to be biracial. Plus, I think it can also be highly relatable to diasporic readers, as Leigh constantly frustrated with how she doesn’t know the language well and the fact that she’s neither met her grandparents nor ever been to Taiwan. - I love Leigh’s relationship with painting, AND COLORS. She struggles with gaining approval from her dad, who thinks she should be taking up a more “meaningful and successful” hobby or skill. On the other hand, Leigh’s mom is the one who encourages her to be creative. - Axel. I like Axel. The romance does play a role in the story, but there isn’t as much emphasis on it as there is on Leigh’s relationship with her mother. - To follow up more on that previous point, the story is told in alternating timelines, past vs. present. The present timeline starts with Leigh discovering that her mom turned into a bird, while the past is a couple months earlier. - The fact that this is more of a ghost story rather than fantasy. There are many magical elements throughout the novel, but it definitely didn’t feel like a straight up fantasy. Leigh discovered more of her family’s past through the use of incense sticks, which when burned, would let her see certain memories. And then of course, there’s the presence of this red bird, which may or may not be Leigh’s mother. - Lastly, I loved the originality of the ending. It is not something I saw coming! Overall, this whole book is original, unpredictable, and completely relatable. I thank the ARC fairy from the very bottom of my heart for accepting my request for this book. The author did such an amazing job telling her grandmother’s story, along with portraying Taiwanese culture and biracial identity. I AM ON BOARD WITH ALL BOOKS SHE WRITES FROM NOW ON, and hopefully one day I’ll get to meet her.
JDanow More than 1 year ago
FEELS!!!!!!!! ALL THE FEELS!!!!!!!!!! The Astonishing Color of After brought to light feelings for me that I didn’t know I was feeling. I cried tears I didn’t know I needed to cry. This book resonated with me in ways I’ve never experience before while reading. This book rebroke my heart but it also healed it in ways I couldn’t heal myself. Let me start at the beginning… Leigh’s mother commits suicide. Her mom’s name is Dorothy and goes by Dory for short. While my mom didn’t commit suicide, she did die unexpectedly in August of 2016. I know, I know you’re thinking what does this have to do with the book but just put your patient pants on. My mom’s name was Doria, and she went by Dory. While Leigh was lucky enough to be the one that didn’t find her mom, I wasn’t lucky enough to have the same luxury. I could relate to how Leigh was feeling on so many levels. So much so, it felt like the author had interviewed me and then written the book based on that interview. Leigh feels like she is to blame partly for her mother’s death. She feels like if she would have only done x better, if only she’d been in y place at z time she would have been able to save her mom. I know because I had these same thoughts and still do until this day. After reading this book and realizing there just wasn’t anything I could have done to change the outcome of what was destined to happen. But just because my mom isn’t physically here anymore doesn’t mean she’s gone forever. I still see her in myself every time I look in the mirror. She is always with me. The magical realism aspect of this book brought the journey and the imagery to life for me. I could picture this big beautiful red bird soaring around Leigh. The more I read of this book the more I found myself looking to the sky to see what is out there for me, and then I realized that looking to the sky is something that I’ve done since the day my mom died. I find myself looking around at the clouds and the sky seeing if there is a trace of her looking down on me. Now my favorite time to look to the sky is at night and I imagine her as one of the stars looming overhead keeping an eye on me. The characters in this book are so real. Leigh, her grandparents, her dad, and Axel. Though, I must admit I feel as though the story could have been just as good without Axel. Sometimes he just seemed to crowd the story and take away from what was happening. I think my most favorite character was Feng, and all the she represents. I absolutely loved this aspect of the book. I also loved Ghost Month as this was something I had never heard of before and it and it reminds me of one of my other favorite holidays El Dia de los Muertos. I loved learning about the Taiwanese culture. The way the author wove this story together through her words brought the magic and the storytelling to life. Her writing style worked extremely well for the subject of this story and I can’t wait to see what she is going to write in the future. The only aspect of this story that just didn’t mesh for me was all the colors sprinkled throughout the story. Honestly though, that is such a minute detail that it’s barely worth mentioning. As you can see this story hit me very close to home, and I am so incredibly grateful to the author for writing it. It rebroke my heart and then helped to heal that same broken heart. Now, on to the important bits… Suicide… If you are ever in a position where you feel that you just absolutely can’t go on do me one solid. Paus