Reviews for The Astonishing Color of After, by Emily X.R. Pan

rainbowreader's review

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tw for suicide and depression

god, this was just so good. it was a little hard to read on an emotional level because of personal stuff going on with my mom — but what really helped is that the writing was just so straightforward. leigh is allowed to grieve, is allowed to go to the lengths that she does, and nobody tells her to move on.

ksparks's review

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dark emotional hopeful inspiring mysterious sad fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No

5.0

 I loved this one. Every time I picked it up I didn't want to put it down. Firstly, she really captures the experience of living in the house with a deeply depressed parent, something that I know well. The heavy atmosphere, and the way that it's an invisible problem-nobody outside the family really knows, and there is collusion to hide it in the family (in this case, Leigh's parents hiding from her what is going on.) Second--the romance is awesome. Third--the surreal/mythic way that Leigh is lead to travel to Taiwan and uncover her mother's past history. And finally, the way Leigh has to fight against her father's opposition to her passion for art. So many elements come together in this book making for a completely immersive experience. 

mari_rod's review

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emotional mysterious reflective sad fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

5.0

rere's review

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4.0

My actual rating is 3,5 stars but I round it up to 4 stars. I love how it shows people what Taiwan looks like.

bornconfused's review

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2.0

After reading so much about this own voices novel, the beauty of the prose within, the story that touches our hearts in both heartbreaking grief and the tender lines of every emotion that falls under love to say I was excited to read this would be an understatement.

This story follows Leigh after the death of her mother and all the in-betweens and endings that come after—mainly the in-betweens with a big red bird—navigating through grief, loss, and trying to make sense of why her mother would want to take her own life. It’s a poignant look into depression, how seemingly senseless it can seem, the people that it can swallow whole. The way Emily Pan approached depression and all its ills, woes, up and downs was especially beautiful dare I say probably the only part of the book I liked.

The rest, the trip to Taiwan, the interwoven magical realism that was just quick teleportation between timelines that never were really explored, the love interest with the best friend (oh god that was the worst of it does the romance make sense No, but if he’s an artist and best friend he wins the girl’s heart bonus points for a shoe-in if he has curly hair and wears plaid shirts) just fell flat for me. Just felt like there were so many ideas and nothing was deeply examined not even the landscape, history and familial ties to Taiwan it’s all very brief and one second contact. The dad is also not very present, no I mean quite literally he isn’t present for a good portion of the book and his decision to leave Leigh in Taiwan only made sense as a literary device to propel the plot forward and made no practical sense, is that the magical realism logic?

There’s also this odd color system that Leigh and her best friend use to communicate hard to describe feelings, oh wait, its mostly just any feelings -_- it kind of makes the color for every emotion feel gimmicky when its used even for emotions that can be written out or described quite succinctly, it just felt lazy to me. *sigh*
This is going to be a very long review.

Ok Let’s start with the Issues I had.

Everything is like everything else.

Ah yes, the everything is like.. everything else sickness where the overuse of similes ‘results in a slight headache, mild fever, vivid diarrhea’ and boy was this book infected. Don’t get me wrong I was perfectly happy at first on my merry go round of likes/as, but soon enough it took a turn for the treacherous.

The Merry Go Round of Odd Similes


‘Was like touching an icy wand to my chest’ oh that makes sense this isn’t so bad my inanimate horse hasn’t kicked me in the shin yet

‘Like a computer screen shutting down’ uhm ok the turbulence isn’t so bad just a little bumpy how many revolutions is a merry go round anyways? -

‘full sun buttering the windows’ wait is that a polar bear picking a fight with the elephant that can’t be safe those two don’t live in the same habitat I will have a word with this carousel’s manufacturer for this inaccurate mammal climate rendering.

‘white like a blank page. White, like my teeth’ the ducks have flown the coop my horse jabs me with its plastic horn its smooth hide scalding revealing itself as a unicorn taking revenge on me for calling it a pretty little pony earlier.

‘The way she talks to me makes me feel like a tourist. Like I don’t belong.’ But- but we’ve established this already, unicorns can be horses you’re technically just a mythical horse with a bloody horn! How many times must we go over the same details over and over on this nightmare round and round again.

‘The colors are just there, floating above me, like little truth tellers.’ Please conductor, who is in control of this ride?! I must immediately leave I will vomit nothing makes sense even as I try to envision it who- oh mr. rooster? You’re an animal on this merry-go-round, is that allowed?

“As though offering a hug would be giving into the grief. As though I’m fragile shell and he’s afraid of crushing me” This one isn’t so bad, but I’ve already thrown up behind the cotton candy stand I have the stomach for no more.

The utter bombardment of similes to describe feelings, emotions, physical realities with even more abstract and nonsensical descriptions made my head spin. I felt like it was way too much for my taste to stomach; at one point my eyes started glossing over the sentences with any mention of like/as which means I probably only in actuality read 1/3rd of this book.

Repetitiveness

The end of the simile merry go round aptly brings me to the repetitive nature of this prose. It really does feel like we are being given the same details, quotes, memories, sentiments repeatedly which is probably a factor into why this book felt so long and short at the same time. There needed to more serious editing done it could have been whittled down a couple of hundred pages or so and No I am not exaggerating; literal phrases are repeated.

Example 1.

On pg. 11 we’re told that Leigh’s mother was buried with her jade cicada necklace she’s worn everyday of her life. That should be the beginning and end of any reminder we’ll ever need of how important this necklace is to her mother. Period. But page after page we get several reminders throughout the story that this is the necklace she wears all the time, oh look a mention of the necklace she never took it off, yes that same necklace but we yet again have to be reminded that she always wore it even when the chain broke and had to fixed. That’s why the story is so long it’s all these intricate details —being generous here—that are endlessly repeated taking up space and mental time for us to re-digest an already established fact. This happens several more times.

Example 2.

Pan write several times about Leigh mentioning her hair color ‘my hair brown instead of black’ to emphasize her self-awareness of her otherness. But after one mention its established, she doesn’t speak Chinese she doesn’t have black hair, its never explored beyond this in what other ways does she feel otherized (that aren't physical or language based) only we’re told how she feels like she doesn’t belong whereby the authors writes again a physical description of her otherness. It’s like we get it can we get an internal glimpse too. There’s such a lack of actual deeper analysis of internal emotional processes that everything seems so surface level reactionary, which I guess is fine too when you’re talking about a 16 year old girl trying to navigate her confusing, bleak reality of losing a mother, the mother turning into in a bird- the pains of the past but a lot of did not resonate with me since it seemed like the authors was trying to manipulate and entice me into feeling a certain way rather than putting in the work into actually have her characters process events, emotions in a way that was appropriate for that character.

His/her/ my favorite Phenomenon

This I totally realize is pedantic but I can’t help it, it bothered me so much I had to put in a special mention of it because now it’s a repeated phrase, the all-encompassing soul draining: Favorite

His favorite shirt

Moms favorite mug

Favorite sandwich, no that’s your favorite sandwich my favorite is the other one

In trouble with my favorite teacher

Everything, and everyone is a favorite at some point it started to less like a word and more like a trademarked brand name that could be inserted in front of any possible noun. Do these character not have things they just mildly prefer or are neutral about, it started to peeve me only a few pages in when I noticed how often it was written as a stand in for actual character exploration and building of their persona.

Generational Trauma

Listen I’m a sucker for deep dives into generational trauma; you could serve it to me on a platter and I would gobble it up half sobbing half savoring the process of working through unpacked baggage of sorrows our ancestors endured. I’ve always been interested in exploring theme of generational trauma how unresolved conflicts from the past can haunt present day family dynamics. But there seems to be very little connection between the grandmother’s story, and then their own rearing and raising of their two daughters, the only connection seems to be the grandparents both refusing to acknowledge or accept Dory’s (Leigh’s mother) choice to marry a white man that translates over to … Leigh never knowing about her grandparents or her Taiwanese background at all. Perhaps the interpretation is that she was mentally not able to balance the energy needed to reconnect with parents she severed ties with and her current every day to day living with her illness. Perhaps the women in her life never had a choice and when Leigh’s mother made her own choice she suffered, but the grandmother also made a choice to marry someone she wanted- were the present-day sufferings the repentance for these choices? It was very interesting to say the least just wish more of the book centered around this, rather than smoke and flashbacks.


Overall Thoughts

I don’t think readers need to be spoon fed with the exact meanings of certain symbols. But when finding the bird becomes the end goal in of itself within the story, a sort of obsession with the main character I feel like after 400 pages there should be some sort of payoff and readers get at least some explanations of the motives, meanings, or something more that readers can extrapolate.

“The bird wants to be found, she has something to tell me, I’m absolutely certain”


Does death absolve all those feelings of resentment, the decades of bitter anger at her parents, at the guilt of her sister’s death- that’s what I don’t understand what is it really that the bird wanted her to know to remember, to remember what? That to hate her grandparents as well or why she could not forgive them? It doesn’t seem like her grandparents are suddenly accepting of the father either it was just too convenient that now after the psychedelic symbolic trip into that melting world that after emerging from that now... they’re all just ok. Maybe it was just all just a metaphor, for what well maybe one more trip on the merry go round will tell and that is not a ride I will be on anytime soon.

mashedpotato's review

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3.0

3.5 stars

read as part of the 2020 Asian readathon!

a great YA novel that deals with themes of depression and suicide in a respectful and realistic way. as an adult reading YA, I tend to find some sentences jarring and 1st-person POV unnatural, and this novel was no exception. still a good read though!

lyszflo's review

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5.0

I am not done but I am
Already in love with the writing and wording and heart felt symbolism. This was absolutely beautiful and amazing take on family, grief, mental illness, and suicide. The awareness, the beautifully painted complexity of how sorrow and grief manifests in each person. Therapy conversations and friendship. I had to pause and slowly savor honesty of this book. An important conversation of the stigma taking on a fantasy perspective to help ease. It really was an astounding read.

june_haya's review

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4.0

This book was so beautiful. I wish I could’ve read it growing up.

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melannrosenthal's review

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adventurous dark emotional fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No

5.0

jaowonders's review

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2.0

This was one of my 4-5★ prediction. Damn. I guess, it's not for me.