“If he looked in my eyes straight on, he would know how he’d pierced me with an arrow, how its shaft was still sticking out of my chest, twitching each time my heart contracted. And maybe he’d see how my mother had sliced up everything else.”
This is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read in my entire life. It’s powerful, moving, poignant, lyrical, important, and touched me beyond words. From the discussion about mental health and the stigmas we still have in 2018 (especially in Asian cultures), to the true portrayal of grief, to the heartbreaking truth about depression, to the realistic depiction of what it means to be not only biracial but to be white passing, to the discovery of your identity. The Astonishing Color of After is a book I will cherish for the rest of my life.
“I would’ve carved out my heart and brain and given them to her just so she could feel right again.”
But this is a very heavy book, so big trigger and content warnings for suicide, depression, loss of a loved one, depiction of blood, very intense suicidal thoughts, abandonment, racial slurs/remarks, and mention of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). But if you’re in the right state of mind, I recommend this book with my whole heart and soul. This will easily make my best of 2018 list.
The Astonishing Color of After is a story about a girl who has just realized that her mother has committed suicide. This book follows her suffering with the loss of her mother, who she is also seeing in the shape of a bird. This bird has convinced our main character, Leigh, to travel to Taiwan, because there is something there that her mother wants her to remember.
“My mother is a bird. This isn’t like some William Faulkner stream-of-consciousness metaphorical crap. My mother. Is literally. A bird.”
➽ Mental Health –
This is a book about mental health and how depression impacts everyone around the person who is living with it. In the acknowledgements, Emily X.R. Pan states that she was inspired to finish this book after someone close to her took their own life. And I’m not going to say that her experience, or my experience, are the only experiences, but the depiction of depression in this book sends a chill up my spine because it feels so real and accurate.
This book discusses how people always think they could have saved the person who ended their life. Or how pills and medications are the fix that depressed people need. Sometimes people believe in other, terrible, treatments that will cure depression, no matter what it costs that person. Depression is an illness, just like anything else. It can come once, it can come and go, and it can come and never leave. But depression is real, and it can be hard, really hard, and it’s not something that’s an “easy fix”, and it’s not something that we should keep stigmatizing and pretending that it’s not a real illness. And this book respectfully and beautiful depicts that. And there is absolutely no suicide shaming in this book.
“Long before doctors put a label on her condition and offered slips of paper bearing the multisyllabic names of pharmaceuticals. Long before my father started leaving on his work trips. Long before everything: She was already hurting.”
➽ Grief –
The start of this book was really heavy and hard to read for me. When Leigh discovers what her mother did my heart felt like it was being shredded. But seeing her mother live with her own grief shredded my soul. Depression, loss, and grief are highlighted themes through this entire book, and they are so real and so important and I have no words to express how much they meant to me that they were huge components of this YA story.
“In the beginning, that mother-shaped hole was made of blood. Dark and sticky, soaked to the roots of the carpet.”
➽ Discovery –
Ultimately, this is a book about Leigh discovering her self in every sense of the word. From discovering her sexuality, to discovering her creativity, to trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life. To also living with a parent that is depressed, to sharing a life with a parent who is never home. To finally discovering her culture that has been somewhat hidden from her for her entire life. Also, this book is the biggest love letter to the healing power of art.
“Maybe that’s where all the other colors are hiding—in a dimension of the world we just can’t see, between our sky and the rest of the universe.”
➽ Being Biracial –
I feel like this is something I never talk about because I feel shame because of all the privileges I’ve received my entire life from being so very white passing, but apparently 2018 is the year I bring up my Filipino heritage in every review I write. I’m a lot more white passing than Leigh, but the things she deals with and feels, especially when she travels to Taiwan, is something so real and something I’ve never had depicted in a book before. From my light hair and eyes, to my barely basic understanding of Tagalog, this book was the book I’ve been searching for my entire life. I have no word combination for how seen I felt in the book. (Also the love interest is half Filipino, and was the cutest little cinnamon role who warmed my heart throughout the book!)
“I suck in a deep breath and quicken my steps to press closer to my grandmother. Her proximity feels like a shield. If only I didn’t stand out so obviously with my lighter eyes, with my lighter hair and its streak of green. If only I had been raised more Taiwanese, and could somehow prove to these people that I belong here.”
➽ Identity –
But seeing Leigh claim back her identity is something so beautiful that I don’t even have words for. This story is crafted and woven so exceptionally between different pasts and her present, and seeing Leigh come into her own is something I can’t possibly put into words.
“We try so hard to make these little time capsules. Memories strung up just so, like holiday lights, casting the perfect glow in the perfect tones. But that picking and choosing what to look at, what to put on display—that’s not the true nature of remembering.”
Overall, I loved this (if you couldn’t tell)! This, again, is a story that I will carry inside of my heart for the rest of my life. Emily X.R. Pan has crafted something that is so raw, but so magical. Plus, this is one of the most impressive debuts that I’ve ever read in my entire life. I recommend this with my entire heart and soul.
Oh, and real quick I want to mention that Leigh has a lesbian best friend who has the most supportive mom (and family) in the world and it was such a bright shining light for me! Also, the mom’s name is Mel and I’m going to totally believe her name is Melanie and it was a glimpse of my future if I ever have kids. Okay, now, go buy this book and come gush with me!
And lastly, here are some amazing resources that are actually in the book:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org
In a crisis, call their free and 24/ 7 U.S. hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Contact their Crisis Text Line: text TALK to 741-741
National Hopeline Network: http://hopeline.com / 1-800-442-HOPE (4673)
American Association of Suicidology: http://suicidology.org
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: http://afsp.org
Suicide Prevention Resource Center: http://sprc.org
➽FOR SUICIDE LOSS SURVIVORS:
Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors: http://allianceofhope.org
American Association of Suicidology survivors page: http://suicidology.org/ suicide-survivors/suicide-loss-survivors
Friends for Survival: http://friendsforsurvival.org
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline survivors page: http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/ loss-survivors/
Suicide Awareness Voices of Education: http://save.org