THE ASTONISHING COLOUR OF AFTER by Emily X.R. Pan
Verdict: A synesthesiastic tale of dealing with loss.
When Leigh's mother commits suicide, she visits Leigh as a bright red bird. Leigh follows her mother's memories to Taiwan to meet her grandparents for the first time and to try to understand her mother's passing.
For a book so sad, it's very colourful. Leigh often shares her emotions as colours and it works very well, especially as the book travels through a whole river of emotions. It shows a battle lost, families broken, and the dark struggles of depression through the lives of Leigh and her family.
To anyone affected by depression and suicide, this book contains those triggers. I felt it handled these themes with tender care and respect, without glamorising suicide or mental illness. The author also went to great lengths to portray a single instance of depression, and even clarifies at the end note that the story isn't mean to explain away depression, just show it for the illness it is.
Leigh is Taiwanese-American, although she starts off knowing very little about her Asian heritage. I'm a huge fan of East Asian culture, so I really enjoyed learning about Taiwan. It adds something to the novel that a book set solely in American could not.
I found the relationships in this book more relatable than most: the dissonance of wanting her dad home, but also looking forward to a night without parents so she can be creative; the liking someone, and someone liking you, and yet how impossible it is to talk about it; an argument one moment, the next moment like it never happened. I think this is a testament to how well crafted the characters are throughout the whole story.
It's not quite a five star book for me. Despite the fantastic writing and wonderful setting, the plot just didn't excite me at any point. It didn't have that insatiability factor to keep me reading, and the twists weren't too shocking. It felt like a gentle, long exploration of Taiwan and a teenager's memories. I liked all of the book, but I didn't fall in love this time.
That said, I'm glad I read it. The prose is beautifully crafted, and as a writer, I feel I've learned a lot about colour and emotions.
Source: From the publishers via NetGalley.com.