Astonishing Color of After
by Pan, Emily X. R.

After her mother's suicide, grief-stricken Leigh Sanders travels to Taiwan to stay with grandparents she never met, determined to find her mother who she believes turned into a bird.

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.

*Starred Review* Leigh shatters after her mother's suicide-who wouldn't?-but when a huge, beautiful red bird appears and calls her name in her mother's voice, she doesn't think she's hallucinating; she's sure the bird is actually her mother, and not "some William Faulkner stream-of-consciousness metaphorical crap." When the bird brings Leigh a box of letters and photos from her mother's childhood in Taiwan, she convinces her white father to take her to Taipei to meet her mother's estranged parents for the first time. There she digs into her family's past, visiting her mother's favorite places and keeping an eye out for the bird, which grows ever more elusive the longer Leigh searches. In Leigh's strong, painterly voice and with evocative, fantastical elements, Pan movingly explores grief and loss, as well as Leigh's meaningful search for connection to her secretive mother and her exploration of the many facets of her identity. Particularly laudable is Pan's sensitive treatment of mental illness: Leigh learns many heartbreaking things about her mother's life, but those moments are never offered as explanations for suicide; rather, it's the result of her mother's lifelong struggle with severe, debilitating depression. Dynamic, brave Leigh emerges vividly in Pan's deft hand, and her enthralling journey through her grief glows with stunning warmth, strength, and resilience. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

Grief, regret, and loneliness form the backdrop of a family's life following a suicide, but a path for healing reveals itself in the form of a magical red bird. Fifteen-year-old Leigh Chen Sanders, daughter of an Irish-American sinologist father and a Taiwanese pianist mother, is in love with her best friend, Axel Moreno. The two have much in common: as well as sharing a passion for art, he is half Filipino and half Puerto Rican and also stands out in their racially homogeneous school. However, a rift has opened between them since their first kiss coincided with the day Leigh's mother took her own life. Now left alone with a distant, judgmental father, Leigh is directed by a red bird she is convinced is her mother to visit her estranged grandparents in Taiwan. There, she seeks out places that were meaningful to her mother and uncovers long-hidden family secrets. The Taiwanese setting is enticingly portrayed, and the magical realism of the bird spirit offers transportive flash back journeys into the family's history. The stigma of mental illness and the terrible loneliness of not being accepted form the heart of this emotionally honest tale, but the device of having Leigh express her feelings in terms of color is distracting and adds little to the story. An evocative novel that captures the uncertain, unmoored feeling of existing between worlds—culturally, linguistically, ethnically, romantically, and existentially—it is also about seeking hope and finding beauty even in one's darkest hours. (author's note, resources) (Fiction. 14-18) Copyright Kirkus 2018 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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