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The Astonishing Color of After

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

462 pages, Hardcover

First published March 20, 2018

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About the author

Emily X.R. Pan

4 books1,494 followers
Emily X.R. Pan is the New York Times bestselling author of THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER, which won the APALA Honor Award and Walter Honor Award. It was also a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize, longlisted for the Carnegie Medal, and named by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 Best YA Books of All Time. Her latest novel, AN ARROW TO THE MOON, was an instant national bestseller, a Locus Award finalist, a CALA Award nominee, and featured on NPR’s Best Books of 2022. Emily currently teaches in the creative writing MFA programs at The New School and Vermont College of Fine Arts. You can find her on Instagram and Tumblr: @exrpan.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 6,032 reviews
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,992 reviews298k followers
March 31, 2018
Depression, I opened my mouth to say, but the word refused to take shape. Why was it so hard to talk about this? Why did my mother’s condition feel like this big secret?
“She’s forgotten how to be happy,” I told him.

As you can see from the picture I shared on instagram, this book was so quotable. There were so many beautiful thoughts, emotions and moments captured perfectly with words.

I probably wouldn't have read The Astonishing Color of After if I hadn't noticed it on my library's new releases page and thought "why not?" Talk of magical realism and a mother who turns into a bird made it sound a little too weird for my tastes; plus, talk of "lush writing" and comparisons to writers like Nova Ren Suma made me think it might be an obnoxiously flowery magical realism book.

Honestly, all that is a little misleading. Leigh's first-person narrative - though prone to a kind of synesthesia - is far more frank and lacking in bullshit than I'd expected. She comes across as realistic, flawed and complex. The story itself is an interesting journey that does more than the typical YA grief novel.

In the wake of her mother's suicide, Leigh is convinced her mother has turned into a bird and is trying to communicate with her. This leads her down a path that forces her to come to terms with the mental illness that her mother had lived with for years.
Her words come out in shattered pieces, unintelligible, thick with hopelessness, heavy under the weight of something that’s taken me years to even begin to understand.
Nothing is right, she says.

In a refreshing change from the YA contemporaries I usually read, most of this story takes place in Taiwan. After her mother's death, Leigh travels there to reconnect with the Taiwanese part of her family and the author does not miss the opportunity to make the most of her setting. We are taken on a richly-portrayed journey, as Leigh discovers her mother's roots, language and culture.

The new discoveries in Taiwan alternate with flashbacks to Leigh's life with her mentally ill mother.

Many studies have been done on the stigma around mental illness in Asian culture. The NLAAS found that Asian-Americans are three times less likely than white Americans to seek mental health help. Which is why this book about a Taiwanese woman with depression is so important. Through Leigh, depression is unpacked and explored. She longs to find out why her mother was sad enough to kill herself - was it a person? a particular event? - but, of course, there is no why. Depression is the reason in itself, and expecting it to make sense is asking too much of its sufferers.

It's just a beautifully-written (but not over-written) and deeply moving book. The only thing I didn't love was the romance with Axel. There’s nothing wrong with it, exactly, and it avoids the usual YA tropes, but it felt unnecessary. Why do we need a romance in here? We have a heartbreaking story of loss, grief, depression, family and identity, all in a beautifully-imagined Taiwanese setting. We just didn’t need a romance, too. But this is a small complaint for an otherwise really impressive debut.

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Profile Image for chai ♡.
321 reviews156k followers
August 9, 2022
The Astonishing Color of After is the kind of book that guts you and buoys you and rips your heart apart and gives it back to you somehow bigger. The experience of sitting with this book, of sinking into it, of aching along with Leigh as her voice unfolds the grief she has folded inside her, as the loss breaks and punctures and shapes and sutures her back together, is beautiful, devastating, and utterly unforgettable. The heartbreaking inquiries at the heart of this novel will follow you long after you turn the last page: What makes a person so fiercely loved want to die? How can you explain that sometimes your own mind is a place you’re afraid to be caught in after dark? How can you articulate that you’ve collected so many ways of being broken that you can only carry them for so long? How do you grieve without losing yourself to the enormity of it?

At the end, we're not left with answers so much as with a raw, unflinching, and compassionate look at mental illness that utterly rejects victim-blaming and cautions against the stigma perpetuated by not talking about it. A highly recommended read.
Profile Image for  Teodora .
329 reviews1,780 followers
April 29, 2023
5 ⭐ because I don't have more

Full review on my Blog: The Dacian She-Wolf 🐺

I don’t know what exact words to use in order to describe The Astonishing Colour of After . I work feeling to feeling with my books and this one was like a tropical rain of feelings washing over me. What exactly are words compared to feelings?

Though, I’ll try.


I was only a couple of pages through it when I realised that I am going to love this book with my whole fibre and I was completely right. I don't know how to explain the effect this book had on me.

I think the best way to describe everything happening throughout it is through the magical power of colours, one system used very well as a concept here. So I’ll try my best to break the storm of unexplainable emotions with a rainbow of explanation, but I am no artist (or at least decent with colours). I am just curious – does this book have the whole rainbow of feelings? Let’s see.

Was it RED? – Yes, because it is a powerful colour, associated with love and war. About war, I cannot tell you much, but it made me feel a pale red of love because the plot itself is built on love. And yes, I loved this book. So red, *checked*.

ORANGE? – The book gave me a refreshing dash of playfulness, youthfulness and energy that I absolutely couldn’t help but admire. *checked*.

YELLOW? –It was a bright shade of warning yellow. A colour that made me feel warned about something other than my own world and also made me feel that shade of happy yellow because of reading it. *checked*.

GREEN? – Jesus, yes. This book was a whole universe of shades of green. The setting of it is just so green you can't ignore it. Everything comes so naturally, stable and undying, it's hard not to feel it. So, *checked*.

BLUE? – As a matter of fact, this book made me feel blue, blue like the colour of my tears that were crowding into my eyes. It made me feel sad, but it also made me feel safe. It felt even serene at some point. *checked*.

PURPLE? – Oh yes, absolutely. The whole story was luxurious, but in a simple way, romantic, but in a platonic way, mysterious, but in an obvious way. Full of contrast, but full of meaning. Imperial, but humble. So purple also *checked*.

PINK? – This book screams pink. Intense pink of deep feelings but also some blushy pink cheeks once in a while. So lovely, *checked*.

BROWN? –It was the brown of the earth. The brown that keeps the roots anchored. The brown of connection. *checked*.

(I don’t know colours so I’ll stop here and yeah, I know those are not exactly rainbow but still)

Conclusion: Apparently, the book is able to have more colours than I personally know to name, so this calls for an expert experter than me, ’cuz I’m rubbish at this point.

I have no proper words in English to describe the effect the whole story had on me, but I can describe it better in Romanian in a way you could have a palpable image of what I felt. This book „m-a uns pe suflet”, basically it just „greased my soul” if that makes any sense to you in English. It was like my soul was this old, creaky, unsufferable noisy door and this book was the oil that got rid of the creakiness. Puff! Mental health immediately restored. Yes, this is exactly how I felt.

Soothing. And recommendable.

"We're not lost. We're just headed somewhere different."
Profile Image for Hailey (Hailey in Bookland).
614 reviews87.8k followers
February 20, 2018
TW: suicide, depression

Such a beautiful debut! The writing was exquisite, I really cared for the characters, and I loved learning more about Chinese/Taiwanese culture! It was a fully immersive read that was definitely heartbreaking, but beautiful overall. The magical realism/religion element was excellently executed. Really enjoyed this one! My only complaint is it was a teensy bit too long IMO (though it did really insanely fast for the most part).
Profile Image for Melanie.
1,172 reviews98.8k followers
December 19, 2018

“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

Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors: http://allianceofhope.org
American Association of Suicidology survivors page: http://suicidology.org/suicide-surviv...
Friends for Survival: http://friendsforsurvival.org
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline survivors page: http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/...
Suicide Awareness Voices of Education: http://save.org

Mental Health America: http://mentalhealthamerica.net
National Alliance on Mental Illness: http://nami.org
National Institute of Mental Health: http://nimh.nih.gov

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Buddy read with Yusra, Caidyn, & Alexis! ❤
Profile Image for Emily Pan.
Author 4 books1,494 followers
July 26, 2019
I guess I should maybe give my own book five stars?


* New York Times Bestseller
* National Indie Bestseller
* Winner of the APALA Honor Award
* Winner of the Walter Honor Award
* Winner of the Freeman Book Award
* Winner of the 'Mental Health Matters' Book Shimmy Award
* Winner of the Millikin Medal
* Finalist for the LA Times Book Prize
* Longlisted for the Carnegie Medal
* Goodreads Choice Awards Finalist for Best Debut Author
* Goodreads Choice Awards Finalist for Best Young Adult Fiction
* Finalist for the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award
* Shortlisted for the Inky Award
* Nominated for the Lincoln Award
* Six starred reviews
* #5 on the ABA Indie Next list
* ABA Indies Introduce selection
* Junior Library Guild selection
* Among the Wall Street Journal's top 12 picks of the season
* Nominated for Book of the Month Club's Book of the Year
* Featured on over a dozen Best of the Year lists by outlets such as NBC News, the New York Public Library, Booklist, Bustle, Entertainment Weekly, Paste, Buzzfeed, and more

Check out the STARRED REVIEWS and media buzz:

“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.”
Booklist, starred review

“Pan’s emotionally charged debut is a compelling exploration of grief and the insidiousness of depression. Her narrator, an artist by nature, sees the world through a colorful, complicated lens, and the novel is steeped in its Taiwanese setting…. An undeniable message about the power of hope and inner strength.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Pan’s writing takes readers on a journey filled with so much emotion, color, and such well-developed characters with a touch of magic, readers will come to the ending drained and fulfilled at the same time. An exploration of grief and what it means to accept a loved one’s suicide, this book’s lyrical and heart-rending prose invites readers to take flight into their own lives and examine their relationships. VERDICT: Pan’s debut novel is not to be missed.”
SLJ, starred review

“This novel is as elegant as it is mesmerizing. The narrative—especially Leigh’s grief and guilt—is heartbreakingly real. Readers will relate to her vulnerability and overwhelming desire to find answers. This is a truly stellar debut, illuminating not only a family’s ongoing struggle with depression, but also the impact upon those left behind when faced with a friend or family member’s suicide.”
VOYA, starred review

"Debut novelist Emily X.R. Pan's author's note reveals her "family lost one of [their] own to suicide." From her personal tragedy rises The Astonishing Color of After, alchemizing devastation through art, music, poetry and, most importantly, forgiveness and unconditional love. In Leigh's mother's recovered final message, the last, crossed-out line, "I want you to remember," becomes a repeated rallying cry and an aching realization that "the purpose of memory... is to remind us how to live." ... Pan offers an extraordinary journey that proves real, surreal and wholly magical."
Shelf Awareness, starred review

"The dichotomous flow of this novel helps to peel off the many layers of the story—death and life, challenges and memories, past and future—all intertwined and continuing to build a sophisticated plot."
School Library Connection, starred review

“Pan’s heartbreaking, deeply felt YA debut sensitively probes questions about grief and loss.”
Entertainment Weekly

“A moving, original tale…. Wide-ranging and utterly unforgettable, Emily X.R. Pan’s depiction of the search for one’s identity will leave you with shivers.”

“Vitally important. In her debut book, Pan communicates what seems many lifetimes of wisdom: the intricacies of grief, how mental illness ripples through families and what it means to find love in the midst of so much loss.”
The Daily Beast

“In this dazzling debut, author Emily X.R. Pan has created a spellbinding narrative about love, family, and what it means to grieve.”

THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER was chosen for the Indies Introduce list! Check out these amazing bookseller blurbs:

There are already blurbs from some incredible authors, too:

“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

“Magic and mourning, love and loss, secrets kept and secrets revealed all illuminate Emily X.R. Pan’s inventive and heart-wrenching debut.”
Gayle Forman, bestselling author of If I Stay and I Was Here

“This book mesmerized me from page one. With its lyrical writing and heartbreakingly real protagonist, The Astonishing Color of After provides a poignant reminder of grief’s power and the transcendence of love. Emily X.R. Pan utterly transported me to a world reminiscent of Isabel Allende. Haunting at every turn, this is a glorious debut.”
Renée Ahdieh, bestselling author of The Wrath and the Dawn

“The Astonishing Color of After is an elegant, poignant journey that crosses an ocean of memory and great loss to face the ghosts of the past and find vivid love. An extraordinary debut from a fiercely talented writer.”
Nova Ren Suma, bestselling author of The Walls Around Us

"This beautiful, magical journey through grief made my heart take flight.”
Holly Black, bestselling author of The Cruel Prince and The Darkest Part of the Forest

The Astonishing Color of After works a delicate magic. Its portrayal of grief is deeply felt, and so too is its deliciously tricky romance. I loved this book.”
Marie Rutkoski, bestselling author of The Winner’s Curse

“My heart has never been more pleasantly devastated. A raw and brilliant debut.”
Roshani Chokshi, bestselling author of The Star-Touched Queen

My editor also wrote a beautiful letter about the book that was printed inside the ARC 😭😭😭:

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Profile Image for jessica.
2,555 reviews35.6k followers
May 4, 2019
can we all just take a moment to appreciate that this is a debut??!!? like, honestly. i am the astonishing colour of impressed.

this book definitely doesnt read like its an authors first work. this is pure magic. just the imagery alone is outstanding - it showcases dealing with grief, family relations, and first love in such beautiful and colourful way!

i really hope emily pan chooses to write another book because i am in desperate need for more of her writing!

4.5 stars
March 21, 2018
I'm proud of my Asian heritage. That said, there are some things upon which the Asian culture can improve in general, and one of the major issues is how we treat mental illness. It is a stigma. It is ignored until one explodes. Even in the US, Asian-American women have a high rates of suicide because of how unwilling we are to talk about our problem, and the unwillingness of our family to confront it.

There have been numerous suicides among famous actors and musicians in countries like Japan and South Korea, and after each one, people talk about it and how sad it is, and how we should not overlook depression, but I feel like nothing is ever done after the mourning period. People are still afraid to talk about their feelings for the fear of sounding weak. I think in the US, depression is not such a stigma here, and we are encouraged to seek help. In East Asian countries, mental health was and remains to be overlooked.

I suffered from depression myself, I shouldn't use the past tense because sometimes I find myself in its grip, because depression never really goes away. As someone caught between my heritage and American culture, this book hits very close to home.

Leigh is the main character in this book, a Taiwanese-American, half white, half Asian. Her mother commits suicide, and Leigh believes that she turned into a bird.
My mother is a bird. This isn’t like some William Faulkner stream-of-consciousness metaphorical crap. My mother. Is literally. A bird.
Someone mentioned "magical realism" in their review of this book and I almost ran screaming away. I fucking hate the bullshit woo-woo of magical realism. It was a poor way to describe this book, because while it has a magical, mystical quality, the tone of the narrator makes it completely readable.

Leigh is just a typical teenager. I shouldn't say "typical" because so commonly in YA books, a typical teenager acts so clichéd. A better word is "believable." She has feelings that I could relate to. She feels guilt. She feels desire.
During sex ed, our teachers always made it sound like the guys were the horny ones. But right there on that couch I was certain that some crucial detail about the female body, or at least my body, had been left out.
This book is about Leigh's journey to understanding her mother, someone she only thought she knew. It's also a journey for Leigh, who discovers herself. It's an excellent rite-of-passage book.

I love the way the book incorporates her feelings for her friend and crush, Axel. It's not an overwhelming thing, but Leigh's guilt and confusion over him is written so vividly.

Like I said before, this book approaches mental illness and depression so well.
How could a person like her be depressed? She was full of energy and life and passion. The word depressed made me think of this group of kids at school who wore all black and thick eyeliner and listened to angry music and never showed their teeth. The ones who people sometimes called emo, making it sound like a bad word.

My mother wasn’t like that. Not at all.
This book doesn't glorify depression and suicide by any means, but it is so beautifully written. It was a long book, but definitely worth the read. Have tissues handy.
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,096 reviews17.7k followers
February 14, 2019
Once upon a time we were the standard colors of a rainbow, cheery and certain of ourselves. At some point, we all began to stumble into the in-betweens, the murky colors made dark and complicated by resentment and quiet anger. At some point, my mother slid so off track she sank into hues of gray, a world drawn only in shadows.

This deserved its spot on the NYT bestsellers list. Actually, it deserved higher and to stay longer.

First of all, the writing is the best. This is contemporary fabulism, and in the typical fashion of that genre, it is weird as hell – but gorgeous. Emily X. R. Pan is really out here being more talented an author in her debut than most authors ever become after years of practice? I know this one is a bit long in terms of pagecount, but it’s actually a shockingly fast read. There’s an extremely natural quality to every word. It flows.

And second of all, I really think this is one of the most thematically strong books I’ve read this year. As you probably know because this book has been everywhere this year, it follows a girl whose mother has died by suicide. So it’s a book about the way both Asian and American cultures often don’t respect victims of depression the way they should. It’s a book about finding family across the world, family despite a language barrier.

Thirdly, and this is something that tends to really enhance my love of books - I would give my life for the lead. Leigh is a girl going through hell, and not really knowing how to deal with it. I love how the book doesn’t frame this as a maturity issue on any level - Leigh is dealing with something almost impossible to handle, and no matter how hard she tries, it is going to be hard. Leigh is also biracial and Taiwanese, and the way the narrative adresses both of these facts is lovely; I felt so connected to her despite being neither.

The only reason it’s not getting a five is because it lacked that special something for me personally. But 1) I still almost cried, and 2) I absolutely think this will be a new favorite for anyone with personal experience with suicide in the family [a tragedy that has never occured in my life]. Cathartic, emotive, and gorgeously written, with a lead protagonist I absolutely adore, this book is going to make it straight to the top of all the best-of-2018 lists.

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💜unofficial buddyread with gaygay and ju💜
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
551 reviews60.5k followers
April 14, 2019
I pick up this audiobook because of the reviews. I was sucked into the hype.

It's a beautiful coming of age book about grief, hope, finding yourself.

Unfortunately Magical Realism isn't for me.
Profile Image for Era ➴.
217 reviews559 followers
March 23, 2022
Trigger Warnings: suicide and depression, grief, some racism.

A full five stars. This book was so fucking amazing. It made me cry, and not a lot of books do that. This made me so emotional and happy and nostalgic and hurt all at once and there is not a color in the world that can describe that.

Emily X.R. Pan’s writing style was just so, so incredible. It was so eloquent and expressive and I could just see everything beautifully. I loved the use of colors as descriptors and the way they had a play on everything. It was gorgeous. Leigh’s narrative was just so beautiful to read.

“I would have known that voice anywhere. That was the voice that used to ask if I wanted a glass of water after a good cry, or suggest a break from homework with freshly baked cookies, or volunteer to drive to the art store. It was a yellow voice, knit from bright and melodic syllables…”

“Axel’s hands stretched around my back and unlocked me. I was melting, he had released my windup key, and I was kissing back hard, and our lips were everywhere and my body was fluorescent orange – no, royal purple – no. My body was every color in the world, alight.”

The setting. My family is from Southeast Asia and I have made several trips to Eastern Asia, but I have never been to Taiwan. But because of my hereditary exposure to Asian culture (and years of failing Chinese class) I understood the setting in Taipei. I could translate some of the Chinese that was in the book, which made me feel stupidly proud for doing something that four-year-olds can do better than I can.

It was really nice to read about foods, cultures and traditions that I have exposure to because it made the scene that much more vivid. It also made this book feel much more personal. For Leigh, her grandparents are people that she wants to know closely, but language barriers and cultural shock prevent her from doing so.

That connected with me on a personal level because I don’t know all that much about my Asian heritage. I have a lot of exposure to the culture, sure, but there is a lot that I don’t know still, and sometimes this makes me feel left out. (I know more than all of my friends combined though since I’m the only Asian person in the class except for my one white friend who speaks fluent Mandarin for reasons I don’t understand)

This bit about heritage also touched on racism issues. Leigh, being half-Taiwanese and half white, is one of the only “mixed” people in her town. This struck me because as I mentioned, I am the only Asian in my class. And, since I love reading and I am decent at math, I get labeled as the “smart Asian kid” stereotype. It’s slightly true because of my annoying-ass tiger parents but it’s still a pain in the ass to deal with.

“Back at home, sometimes people say I look exotic or foreign. Sometimes they even mean it as a compliment. I guess they don't hear how that makes it sound like I'm some animal on display at the zoo.”

Exactly, Leigh.
EXOTIC is not a compliment. It is not flattering. It is not appreciative. It is a word used to describe animals and fruits from distant cultures. It is NOT A WORD USED FOR PEOPLE.

The characterization was not as big of a theme as it is in other books, but the characters were still so layered and beautiful.

Leigh, the protagonist, was artistic, creative, stubborn, persistent, sensitive, and empathetic. Like I was saying at the beginning, everything translates to colors for her and it’s so gorgeous to read.

Brian, Leigh’s father, was kind of viewed badly. I mean that as in, his character was good and nice and developed, but he was viewed in the antagonistic sense that teenagers seem to view their parents in (especially fathers). I say that as a fourteen-year-old who always has some kind of argument or resentment with her parents. I don’t know about everyone else but my parents tend to be the bane of my fucking existence sometimes (please tell me I’m not the only one, I don’t want to seem like a bitch).

Axel, Leigh’s crush. I wanted to shake him at some points (*ahem* jerky clueless guy who is blind), but he was the kind of guy that I really wished I knew in real life. He liked art and music, he was open about the things that interested him, he didn’t care too much about being labeled, and he fucking rescued Leigh from nature camp. In the middle of the night. By himself. Okay, where can I find me a guy like that?

Dory, Leigh’s dead mother, was the character that I empathized with the most (second to Leigh obviously). Unfortunately, I think that a majority of that empathy stems from the fact that we both battled depression and suicide. Also, Asian heritage, but emotionally that was what connected me to her. Her bravery, creativity, and beautiful character really drew me in.

“It’s okay to be afraid. But not okay if be afraid means you do nothing. You must not do nothing. That’s not life worth living.”

The plot of this book sounded kind of iffy to me, from reading the synopsis. My first reaction: she’s chasing a bird to Taiwan? However, the premise and the first chapter really hooked me, and from then on I was so invested in Leigh’s story.

I liked that the main storyline was interrupted by flashbacks. I know that’s weird and I never thought I’d say it, but I loved how the memories supplemented the main plot and I loved the way they were incorporated into the story. The flashbacks were so neatly woven in that they could not be untangled from the real storyline, and that was just so gorgeously done.

The bird plot sounded odd, didn’t it? The thing is it was executed in a way that meant that you couldn’t not believe what was happening. It was impossible for me to think, Leigh’s just dealing with grief, because no. She wasn’t “just dealing with shock”. She saw a fucking red bird. That bird was real.

“Here is my mother, with wings instead of hands, and feathers instead of hair. Here is my mother, the reddest of brilliant reds, the color of my love and my fear, all of my fiercest feelings trailing after her in the sky like the tail of a comet.”

The theme here was centered around depression and suicide at first. Then it was family, truth, and memories. And then it was all of those themes at once, written in so that everything was just exploding with meaning for all of those concepts. It does sound like a bit of an overload, but I swear it’s not.

The grief and depression depicted in this book hit me hard. The way Emily X.R. Pan wrote this was just…wow. I nearly cried. Scratch that, I did cry. Because I have been there. I have been grieving for someone I loved. I have felt like I needed to die. And this depiction of that was so raw.

“I'll do all the things I constantly forgot to, all the things I wish I could go back and add in like another layer on a watercolour painting.”

“My mother's dying soaked down through the carpet, through the wood. When it was done with the bedroom, it took over our house, and then it moved on to me. It soaked through my hair and skin and bone, through my skull and deep into my brain. Now it's staining everything, leaking the blackest black into the rest of the world.”

I loved how memory was such a strong, compelling theme throughout this book, because I have never thought about pictures and flashbacks the way I read them here. After finishing this book, I sat and went through old pictures from vacations and from when I was little, and the power of those memories was so strong.

The last line that Leigh reads from her mother is, “I want you to remember”, and through her whole journey Leigh searches for what her mother wants her to remember. Through this, she discovers everything else.

“Memory is a mean thing, slicing at you from the harshest angles, dipping your consciousness into the wrong colors again and again. A moment of humiliation, or devastation, or absolute rage, to be rewound and replayed, spinning a thread that wraps around the brain, knotting itself into something of a noose. It won't exactly kill you, but it makes you feel the squeeze of every horrible moment. How do you stop it? How do you work the mind free?”

Home was a theme that I was compelled by, because it’s something that I’ve always grappled with. My parents are immigrants, and we have a lot of family in Asia. We go back as often as we can. But my parents both agree that they can’t imagine moving back, and that this is their home now. Me, on the other hand, I feel bored when we don’t go anywhere. I don’t want to move out of this house – in fact, I adamantly refuse – but I get so restless when we don’t travel. I always feel freer away from home. Emotionally, too, sometimes I feel trapped. Depression does that.

So this theme was so compelling for me to read about.

“She was a sea creature and the music was her ocean. It had always belonged to her. It was in her every breath, her every movement. She was the color of home.”

“A baby bouncing over a knee above a familiar leather sofa. Across the room, deft hands mapping out black and white keys. A living room bursting with magenta warmth and dandelion cheer and all the hues of love, invisible but undeniably there.”

The truth was a theme that was less explicit, but that I personally thought deserved a spot here. Leigh’s goal is to find the truth of why her mother died, why she felt that way, why and how and what brought everything together. And I was so invested in that.

“Children know the truth," says Feng, her voice going very quiet.
I turn to look at her. "What? What do you mean?"
"They haven't learned to walk around with a veil over their eyes. That's a habit that come with adulthood. Kids always know what they see. That's why ghosts can't hide from them.”

I want to say more but this is super long already and I don’t want to put too much in and ruin it for anyone who wants to read. So.
I would recommend this to EVERYONE because it is just so amazing and yes it really is that good. I loved it so much and I connected with it so deeply that I just can’t. One of my favorite books in ever.
Profile Image for Warda.
1,208 reviews19.7k followers
May 7, 2019
“Believing is a type of magic. It can make something true.”

Why is it that when books mesh so well with your being you find it difficult to express the intense sense of euphoria that is enveloping you?

Instead, all I can come up with is: this is SO good.


What do I say? I mean, I knew I was going to love this based on the blurb. I remember picking it up whilst I was at Waterstones, and there was no way I could've left the shop without purchasing this book. That's how much it captivated me.
That was last year.
Now, that I've finally read it, I'm in awe of this story that has been crafted. This story that speaks on loss, grief, suicide, depression, family, love and art. All of these elements have been beautifully intertwined and I don't know what took my breath away the most; the writing or how this story was so intricately woven together.

It was pure art.

I loved being immersed in the Taiwanese culture. There was such an appreciation for language, food and their values and since Leigh was alienated from that and discovering things for the first time, I felt that I was on that same journey with her, as she was finding her identity and sense of belonging in a culture she was taken away from. And I was realising how much someone's identity and personality can come from being rooted in a culture and not knowing about it can cause such damage and loss.
Now, I'm wanting to have that same journey; to go back home and truly find out what my heritage is about.

I'm blown away. It is so deserving of all the accolades it's been receiving

I'm ready to be broken and healed by this book.
Buddy-reading with Zara! 😁
Profile Image for destiny ♡ howling libraries.
1,743 reviews5,283 followers
November 7, 2019
This is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful books I have ever read, and it completely and utterly wrecked me. In case you aren’t aware, major trigger warnings for suicide and mental illness in the book and this review—proceed with caution and take care of yourself. ♥

My mother is free in the sky. She doesn’t have the burden of a human body, is not made up of a single dot of gray. My mother is a bird.

First of all, the writing in this book is stunning. It’s got this beautifully magical, lyrical quality to it, and I tabbed so many passages just because the way Emily X. R. Pan weaves words together is breathtaking. I honestly could have compiled this entire review simply out of quotes (and I nearly did).

And maybe he could see how my mother had sliced up everything else. How even if he could wrench that arrow free, the rest of me was so punctured and torn that nothing would ever be able to suture me back together.

Leigh is such a great narrator for the story; she’s just unreliable enough that it can be hard at first to know if the things she’s seeing are actually happening to her, and it doesn’t help her any when her father refuses to believe a word she says about the bird she believes her mother has become. It’s a brilliant execution, as you’re frequently left to wonder, is the grief playing tricks on her, or is her mother, in fact, a bird?

This was my mother’s home for the first half of her life—can’t it feel a little bit like home to me, too?

Beyond her search for the truth about her mother’s life and death, there are two sub-plots running that I loved almost as much as the main theme: 1) Leigh’s time visiting her grandparents, where she feels so terribly out of place—having never been taught fluency in her mother’s native tongue, she struggles to communicate, and every time she steps outside, she is stared at and whispered about for being half white.

When did I last hear my mother play? I’m not sure; I guess that should’ve been a red flag.

There’s also a romantic undercurrent as Leigh dwells on what has happened to her friendship with her best friend, Axel, a biracial Puerto Rican/Filipino boy she’s grown up with and has suddenly found herself irrevocably in love with. I know a lot of readers wished the romantic aspect had been left out of the story, but for what it’s worth, I enjoyed it a lot, as it offered a lighter, more predictable reprieve here and there from the overwhelming heaviness of her mother’s suicide.

How crucial those little fragments are now; how great their absence. I should have saved them up, gathered them like drops of water in a desert. I’d always counted on having an oasis.

Of course, this isn’t a book written for the sole purpose of a love story or a trip to Taiwan; this is one of the saddest, most devastating stories I have ever read in my life. I’m going to get really personal (probably too much so) here, but this story hit every soft spot I’ve got.

Maybe it hit so close to home for me because my mother is one of my best friends in life, and to lose her so abruptly and with such little closure would undoubtedly fray away at the edges of everything I am, just as it did so for Leigh.

Maybe it threw an extra punch because I first began struggling with severe depression as a child, and it has never gone away, and there were too many days that I was almost a person-shaped hole in the hearts of my loved ones, too.

Maybe, as a mother who suffers with mental illness, this book was exactly the kind of reminder I needed to always keep fighting, because I couldn’t bear for my son to ever wonder if he failed at loving me the way Leigh wonders if she failed at loving her mother.

Whatever it was, I am so incredibly grateful to Emily X. R. Pan for this gift—and for never, for even a second, resorting to suicide-shaming, but for recognizing that it isn’t a selfish act of cruelty to one’s family, but a side effect of mental illness that cannot be blamed upon the victim.

If you are suffering from suicidal thoughts, please seek help. Please don’t let your illness take you away from the world, because I promise, it’s a better place with you in it. My inbox is always open, or you can contact any of these organizations if you’d like to remain anonymous:
• USA: National Suicide Prevention Lifelife: 1-800-273-8255
• USA: The Trevor Project (for queer youth): 1-866-488-7386
• USA/CA: The Trans Lifeline (for trans individuals): 1-877-565-8860
• UK: Samaritans: 116 123
• INTL: click here for a list of lifeline numbers and websites

You can find this review and more on my blog, or you can follow me on twitter, bookstagram, or facebook!
757 reviews2,349 followers
July 8, 2018
Trust me, no one's more disappointed than me because y'all don't know how bad I wanted to love this book!! I was just so bored during the middle 200 pages of this book because it's a very slow book + there was a lot of girl hate that annoyed me so much. But despite that, it's still an important and good book.

This is a book about a girl whose mother has committed suicide. Leigh is suffering the loss of her mother, who she sees as a bird after her mother's death. This bird wants Leigh to travel to Taiwan, where she'll uncover buried family secrets and find her identity in the world.

Leigh's story is so important and real. This book talks about mental health, the truth about depression and grief.


Mental Health:
This book shows us how depression not only affects the person who has it, but those around them as well. When Leigh travels to Taiwan, where she uncovers her mother's history, she sees how her mother was not okay and falling deeper and deeper into depression. Many people don't take depression seriously or consider it a real illness, which is so fucked up because it is real and not something to be ignored. While my experience with depression is different from Leigh's mothers, the depiction of it is so accurate and real. I felt it.

Also, many times people talk shit about those who've committed suicide, which is so wrong and disgusting. It genuinely makes me sick when people shame others or bully people who self harm or have tried/have commit suicide. And as someone who used to self harm and has tried committing suicide, it's not fun being told what a gross human being you are for doing those things. That shit is NOT fucking okay.

Leigh is half white and half Asian (specifically Taiwanese). Leigh's best friend/secret crush Axel, is half Filipino and her other friend, Caro, is a lesbian. 90% of this book takes place in Taiwan and I loved it. I loved reading about the culture, language, customs, food and religion. It was so beautiful. I was literally all heart eyes!!

I also, loved reading about Leigh finding herself, connecting with her culture and heritage. Leigh's mom (who is Taiwanese) has kept Leigh isolated from her parents and family (for reasons). She's never met her grandparents, who live in Taiwan nor can she speak the language very well. When she visits Taiwan, she learns more about her family, learns more about and connects with her culture. She also feels out of place in Taiwan because she's half white.

“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.”

From discovering her sexuality (there was actually a masturbation scene!!!!!!!! though not explicit), to her interest and career and discovering her culture, Leigh grows so much. I love how she stands up for her interests when her father said that art wouldn't make her happy and give a stable career. She was just a smol girl who was living with a depressed mother and a father who was constantly gone for weeks on business trips.


This book is super slow and it's more about character growth than an actual plot. So the middle 200ish pages of this book kept me really bored. While the beginning and ending made me really love it, I can't ignore the fact that more than half of this book was really slow and boring for me.

There was also a lot of girl hate. Leigh meets a translator named Feng in Taiwan who helps her communicate with her grandparents. Feng is also an acquaintance of her grandparents. Many times throughout the book, Leigh would think such horrible thoughts and act super rude towards Feng because Leigh didn't like how Feng was making her feel like an outsider. Feng was being nice, translating for her, showing her around, telling her basic stuff, and SHE WASN'T RUDE ONCE. But Leigh lashes out and says horrible things to her which pissed me off like akhjkdscv why is she so fucking rude? She does apologize later, but that still doesn't erase the fact how much her hate annoyed me.

Overall, this is a really important book and even though I had some problems with it, I didn't hate it. I liked it, I loved the themes and messages in this book and still would recommend it!

Trigger warnings: suicide, depression, and death.

so far this book is really slow and i’m feeling really meh towards it 🤷‍♀️ but that better not be the case for the rest of the book 😤

buddy read with 💩
Profile Image for Reading_ Tamishly.
4,452 reviews2,406 followers
July 27, 2022
"Because the purpose of memory, I would argue, is to remind us how to live."

I love this story so much. Especially the writing. And the way the characters are developed. There's always some surprises coming up in the next chapter. And this goes on till the end. And I am so damn glad I picked up this book like it chose me to read it now and embrace me in all its dark warmth during tough times like this.

The book is basically young adult fiction which is heavily fantasy with magical realism elements with alternate timelines in the narration. The plot has a lot of suspense going on in there with some spooky moments here and there.

The story depicts well the representation of multicultural background, interracial marriage, family conflicts, deaths and the grieving process.

I just love how visual the writing is. It's just colourful and makes you see colours depicting different feelings and emotions.

The whole book is amazing. Each subsequent chapter felt like I was finding a clue to crack open up some mystery. I don't want to say much about the characters that played important roles which might lead me to ruin the book for you.

The representation of depression has been quite accurate and the feeling of loss and grieve have been put out there as it is.

I am glad the author put a lot of effort in representing the culture of the Taiwanese people. I just enjoyed the elaborate food talks. I loved the enthusiasm in the writing about art and music. I appreciate the fact that the characters stood out from each other and each having a strong presence despite a few of them had been unvocal.

The romance is somewhat subtle and so young adult but it has been executed really well. I like how our main character, Leigh, fights for her dreams and practically lives for her choices.

I like how the book ended. There's closure. There's acceptance. There's forgiveness. There's a family promising itself to be a family ready to face anything together after all the difficulties and hardships.

I was secretly wishing for the chapters to go on... because I simply wanted more of these characters and the history behind the story.

No review can do this one justice.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,514 reviews29.4k followers
May 9, 2018
4.5 stars, rounded up.

Lyrical, emotionally powerful, even fantastical at times, The Astonishing Color of After is a stunning, poignant look at grief, family, love, and secrets that packs a real punch, and leaves you with gorgeous images in your mind.

"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. Memory is a mean thing, slicing at you from the harshest angles, dipping your consciousness into the wrong colors again and again."

Leigh Sanders has always caught people's attention—for the colorful streaks she puts in her hair, her artistic talent, and her mixed heritage, as her mother is Chinese and her father is Irish-American. But no matter how many times she asked through her childhood, she's never met her maternal grandparents, never heard much about her mother's life before she met Leigh's father while studying in America. It's always a door that has remained closed, and if anything, Leigh's attempts to open it have been met with real resistance from her parents.

Then one day, the bottom falls out. Leigh's mother commits suicide. Although her depression always seemed a part of their lives the last several years, neither Leigh nor her father ever really thought this would happen. Leigh tries to figure out what signs she might have missed, what she could have done differently, while at the same time, she blames her father's withdrawal from their lives, his continual business travels, for leaving her mother so vulnerable.

In the days following her suicide, Leigh believes her mother keeps returning to her in the form of a beautiful red bird, but when she calls out to her, or asks her to stay, the bird flies away. What is her mother trying to tell her? What does she want Leigh to do?

"Once upon a time we were the standard colors of a rainbow, cheery and certain of ourselves. At some point, we all began to stumble into the in-betweens, the murky colors made dark and complicated by resentment and quiet anger."

As if all of that isn't complicated enough, Leigh must also face facts that on the day her mother killed herself, Leigh finally kissed Axel, her best friend and (perhaps not-so) secret crush. How can she reconcile those two events?

Her father finally relents and travels with Leigh to Taiwan so she can finally meet her maternal grandparents. There she hopes that she'll finally understand what her mother is trying to tell her, what she wants her to remember. As she begins to learn more about her mother and the reasons she closed herself and Leigh off from her heritage, she learns powerful lessons about the power of memory, loss, ghosts, and the connections of blood and friendship.

This is a beautiful, heartfelt, somewhat quirky book, which shifts between real and fantasy, present and past. At times it's necessary to suspend your disbelief, as Leigh is able to witness memories she never knew about (or, in some cases, wasn't alive for), and there's a lot of discussion about ghosts, as they're revered and feared in Taiwan. Additionally, being an artist, Leigh tends to reflect and explain moods in color, particularly unusual shades of color, so that may strike some as off-putting.

Those quirks aside, The Astonishing Color of After really is astonishing. Emily X.R. Pan captures teenage angst, grief, and fears perfectly, and the strange unevenness of family dynamics. This is a book that dazzled, lyrically and emotionally, as it made me tear up, which is always a fun thing to do on a plane ride! This may not be a book for everyone, but for those who decide to read it, I hope it paints a beautifully emotional portrait for you as well.

See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com, or check out my list of the best books I read in 2017 at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2018/01/the-best-books-i-read-in-2017.html.
Profile Image for elena ❀.
304 reviews3,164 followers
April 3, 2021
Once upon a time we were the standard colors of a rainbow, cheery and certain of ourselves. At some point, we all began to stumble into the in-betweens, the murky colors made dark and complicated by resentment and quiet anger. At some point, my mother slid so off track she sank into hues of gray, a world drawn only in shadows.

Contemporary and magical realism, a strange combination that does not happen often. First book I ever read that included magical realism was Like What For Chocolate but I read the Spanish version, Como agua para chocolate. I actually did not know this had that genre focused as well. I became interested in this book after seeing it pop up on my feed quite a lot but it also appeared as one of the "most anticipated releases of 2018" for those Booktubers some of us are familiar with. I must say, this has definitely become a favorite of mine. What makes it better is that it's an own voices book, and I do think this is one of the best debuts I've ever read.

Leigh Chen Sanders did not ever think the day she kissed her best friend would be the day she would find her mom lying dead on the floor with a bottle of sleeping pills on one side and a bloody knife on the other side. One thing she does believe though is that her mother has turned into a bird. A red bird, specifically. She is determined to find out why her mother committed suicide after she finds her suicide note. Leigh, being half Asian because of her Taiwanese-born mother and half White beause of her Irish-American father, she travels to Taipei, Taiwan to meet her grandparents, the people she had wished to meet for a very long time but never was able to for reasons she never knew. As she is trying to improve her Mandarin and is building a relationship with her maternal grandparents, she is set in a world she never knew about.

Set in the past and present, reality and magic, The Astonishing Color of After introduces us to the life of Leigh and how begins discovering secrets about her family, chases after ghosts and her mother-bird, learns about her Asian heritage, and begins to wonder what hope and love means.

Trigger/content warnings for depression and suicide. Emily provides the past and younger life of Leigh as she is growing up and we see how her mom went from shining her beautiful smile to losing her hope in life. The book does not focus on suicide nor on depression. Depression is mentioned and is something Dory, Leigh's mother, struggled with, but it wasn't the biggest role of the book. In reality, Leigh wants to find out why her mother killed herself.

Light the match. Touch the stick of incense—its tip alight and calm as an ember—to the vane of the feather.

I've read articles and watched videos stating East Asian countries are one of the highest (if not the highest) countries with suicide rates. There's a video I watched where a girl was so focused on school and her work but later became tired, stressed and sad that all she wanted to do was fly. The video has been taken down but it actually became viral, having comments of comparison between education in South Korea vs other countries. It was based and set in South Korea, but these things happen in all countries including Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, etc.

Mental health is a struggle everyone faces. Whether they have been diagnosed with an illness or not, everyone has something. I myself have panic disorder but I have also suffered from depression and so, because of my personal experience, I actually enjoy reading about mental health portrayed in books.

Mental health, though, varies in countries. I don't want to get into further detail because I am no expert in mental health statistics, but the views of mental health in East Asia need to change positively, at least slowly, and we can do something about that.

My mother is a bird.
And I am only a girl.
A girl, human and wingless—but what I have is the beginning of a plan.

The first thing I noticed about this book was the cover. I thought it shone brightly and beautifully at the bookstore that I told myself I would buy it next time I make a stop at B&N. It didn't happen until I was fully convinced I wanted to read this book. It has easily become one of my favorite books of the year and I will definitely be looking forward to the future works the author plans on publishing. I think the most beautiful part of this is that it's an own-voices book. Emily X.R. Pan was born in the U.S. but her parents are immigrants from Taiwan. I think it's amazing when people, authors or not, bring in their own heritage and culture and experience to any sort of writing piece or art form or musical sheet. She really managed to engross me with the world-building and the Asian heritage and the characters. Her writing was very easy to follow but it was also poignant, artistic and lyrical, short and prepossessing.

I actually took Mandarin for 3 years. I still remember my 2 favorite sentences: 我喜欢咖啡。我不喜欢汉堡包。 Also, my name was 梅姬。So, to the ones who understand, 你好!我叫梅姬。My school requires all students to take a Language Arts class and the only options were Spanish and Mandarin. I'm fluent in Spanish and the teacher was an American-born self-taught Spanish speaker, so I figured it would be better for me to take a language I was a complete stranger to. I took it for three years and, although it was interesting and nice to learn, I wouldn't go back to it. I guess it was because I wasn't completely focused on the language that I barely managed to pass the class for 3 years. It was beautiful, yes, but very difficult. So, with that being said, my teacher was actually born in Taiwan and immigrated to the United States to learn English. She would talk about her days there and would give us brief overviews of it even though we couldn't do anything but imagine it.

Emily actually built a beautiful world in the book. She described Taipei in beautiful ways and it was very easy to imagine it. Since Leigh's grandparents were from Taiwan, they, of course, spoke the language. There were so many characters and words I knew and remembered and was able to pronounce correctly with the right tone and it was actually nice seeing that; nice seeing a language I was quite familiar with. Another thing I liked was the descriptions of the traditions, the food, the celebrations—the different cultures every country has is just really interesting to me. Knowing my family and I have our own culture and traditions, it's beautiful and interesting to see how different others are.

Hold your finger to the sky with so much force it lengthens like a spine. Look up to the point of it and beyond. Thre. That tiny patch of the world, no bigger than the tip of your finger. At first glance, it might just look like one flat color. Blue, or gray, or maybe even orange.

But it's much more complex than that. Squint. See the daubs of lilac. The streak of sage no wider than a hyphen. That butterscotch smear ad the faint wash of carnelian. All of them coming together to swirl at the point just above your finger.

Breathe them in. Let them settle in your lungs. Those are the colors of right now.

Throughout Leigh's journey, we see that she begins to try and discover why her mother killed herself. She begins to see that it wasn't a person or an event, but depression itself. She begins to see that sometimes people lose faith and hope in life that there's nothing else to do. She blames herself for it and wishes she could've done something else about it, but she discovers things on her own that give her the answers she wants.

Magical realism is also something that I think the author managed to portray correctly. I think the whole idea of the main character being consumed by a shadow or dark dust, taking her back to the past and showing a memory of her mother, father, herself, or any other memory added mystery to the novel, but also entertainment. When Leigh saw her younger self smiling, shining, laughing with her mother, I felt like I wanted to capture the moment. One of the things Emily managed to do was impact me. I mean, after reading this, I began realizing even more than you really never know when or how you'll lose a loved one. Leigh is a teenage girl who struggles with grief, loss, and hopelessness until she looks for her answers and brings back everything she lost. The story is about how a teenage girl manages deal with her grief.

I actually felt bad for Leigh. She really wanted to learn about herself and her other heritage and was never able to meet her grandparents even though she really wanted to. She also wishes she looked more Taiwanese when she was in Taiwan because the people there would call her mixed blood and give her dirty looks at times because of how she looked—her white skin, brown hair and green tips. I can see where she came from though. I mean, I sometimes get sad when I don't know about my Hispanic tradition. I wasn't born in El Salvador, but my parents were, and its been years but they're still trying to remember everything they celebrated and did when they were teenagers. I still appreciate the fact that they try their best to bring out the tradition of their country and teach it to me. Slang too, slang is important y'all!

Okay, there were quite a lot of things I liked about this, but another thing was the color distinguishing of emotions. Also called, synesthesia. I really enjoyed reading about Axel, her best friend and the boy she likes, and how he would always ask what color she was feeling when there was an event occurring. It was either bright and vibrant or dark and shady. The colors would represent what each was feeling, either red for love, white for neutral, and so on. Now that I've mentioned Axel, diversity also has a role in this book. I mentioned before that Leigh is half White and half Asian, but Axel was also from Asia, specifically from Filipino descendant. There weren't any terms or the language of The Philippines was never brought up, but the small elements of it was a plus in the book. I wish it had more of it and Axel would actually bring parts of it up, but the book wasn't about that so I didn't completely wish for it. Leigh also had a friend who was lesbian and so the representation of LGBT was brought in but again, it was not the main focus.

I won't lie, the only problem I had with this was that it felt too long. I mean, it might be because the chapters were short. It reminded me of Artistotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe and how sometimes one chapter would be one page long. I didn't mind it because it actually allowed me to read the book faster, but the length of the book felt like it was too long.

There's no point in wishing. We can't change anything about the past. We can only remember. We can only move forward.

Overall, Emily X.R. Pan has written a thought-provoking and beautiful story about a teenage girl finding herself with the help of her mother, as a bird, guiding her. This debut has definitely won me over and I really hope Emily actually continues, or at least is interested in, writing more books with mental health representation. The setting was beautifully imaginative. The writing was artistic and I loved how she used art as a form of expressions and thoughts.

Art and magical realism combined created a beautiful story, and I hope there are more people who allow this book to be a part of their lives by creating an artistic journey as they're reading it.
Profile Image for Em Lost In Books.
903 reviews1,816 followers
March 4, 2019
This was the debut that I wanted to read most last year but I couldn't. The beautiful cover, equally intriguing blurb, and the all those glowing reviews, it piqued my interest in this story. So I decided to remedy it early this year before I get lured away into some other fantasy world. Oh boy, this was a disappointment. My own fault though, I guess I started with expecting too high.

Leigh's mother commits suicide and she starts seeing a bird, which she thinks is her mother. After her mother's death Leigh came to Taiwan where she learns about her mother's past. She learns what was eating out her mother, and why she was depressed. Through all these flashes from the past Leigh finally find the solace in the end.

Now this story deals with a lot of things which is good but it is also where this disappoints me. Depression, suicide, unrequited love, remorse… there was so much going on. And at times these strong emotions played out against each other for me. For example main Leigh was blaming herself for not being with the mother in her last moments because she was with her boyfriend. I mean come on she didn’t have magical powers to know that the moment she was making out with her boyfriend, her mother was committing suicide. Then comes the decision to leave the boyfriend and throughout the story she kept thinking about him. Gah! Arc about Leigh’s mother’s sister was good but boring at times. There were times when things got repetitive and I felt it would have been a better story with some pruning. Also I didn’t like the magical part of the story. It was confusing at times to me.

I thought I would love this but couldn’t. Nevertheless, I will definitely check out next book by Emily Pan.
Profile Image for ♛ may.
806 reviews3,837 followers
July 3, 2018

im legit more disappointment in this book than i am in the world cup okay maybe thats a sliiiiight exaggeration

this book started off SOSOSOSOSO GOOD but it was SO long and i started to find the writing grow so TEDIOUS and then the mystic plot just began to overwhelm everything and i just wasn't feeling it gahhhh im so sad.

i wish it was more contemporary than mystic bc the magic realism aspect made me more confused and underwhelmed than anything. i felt like the grief and sadness got overshadowed with all the other ish going on. :///

i fricken L O V E D that the majority of the book took place in Taiwan and we got to see the culture and country in such a realistic way. so awesome

but besides that, the mc was annoying and very very rude to like EVERYONE around her and she pretty much blames it on her grief and boiiiiii let me tell you that ain't okay

2 stars!!


Fake buddy read with 🦆🙄 & impromptu buddy read with my child, 🦇🗑️

Profile Image for April.
146 reviews262 followers
April 4, 2018
This book hit home for me. From Leigh losing her mom to how she had to grow up being biracial. Just a beautiful and heartfelt story.
Profile Image for Korrina  (OwlCrate).
193 reviews4,559 followers
December 13, 2017
Beautiful and heartbreaking. Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year, and definitely a new favourite.
Profile Image for may ➹.
494 reviews2,071 followers
Shelved as 'need-to-finish'
April 9, 2018
this is not a bad book

it’s not!! I’m enjoying it!!!

however, it is VERY slow (since it is focused around Leigh’s grief), and usually, I’m fine with slow books. but I can currently feel myself on the edge of a slump and I will not let a slow book drag me down into that hellhole, so for now, this book is on hold


I mean, I’m not saying that I’m still in disbelief that one of my most anticipated 2018 releases is in my hands, or that I’m dropping everything to read this, but... that’s exactly what I’m saying


// unofficial buddy read with the one who gives me good lick, the one who stabs her pets, and too gay for their own good
Profile Image for Gabby.
1,304 reviews27.9k followers
March 18, 2022
Closer to a 4.5 stars
"Memory is mean thing, slicing at you from the harshest angles, dipping your consciousness into the wrong colors again and again."

Wow, this book was gorgeously written and heart-breaking and amazing. This story follows a young girl named Leigh who has just discovered her mother has killed herself. This story is about her discovering her families history that she never knew about, and going to her Mother's birth place, and dealing with an absurd amount of grief. This book made my heart feel so heavy, and it really dives deep into issues like depression, and suicide.

This book is gorgeously written. I love the way Leigh uses color to describe her emotions and everything around her. I love the way this book emphasizes how important memories are, and how our memories remind us how to live and our memories make us who we are.

Depression, I opened my mouth to say, but the word refused to take shape. Why was it so hard to talk about this? Why did my mother’s condition feel like this big secret?
“She’s forgotten how to be happy,” I told him.

I think this book hit a little close to home because my Mom has always battled with depression, much like Leigh's mom in this book (my Mom's never got as bad as her Mom's, but its still something she deals with on a daily basis). Because of that this book made me so emotional multiple times because I could never imagine anything like this happening to my Mom and it broke my heart to watch Leigh deal with it all.

“Once upon a time we were the standard colors of a rainbow, cheery and certain of ourselves. At some point, we all began to stumble into the in-betweens, the murky colors made dark and complicated by resentment and quiet anger. At some point, my mother slid so off track she sank into hues of gray, a world drawn only in shadows.”

I also loved the romance between Leigh and her best friend Axel. It was portrayed so realistically in flashbacks and they've been best friends their whole lives, and they were just cute as hell. I also loved getting to see the love story between Leigh's parents in flashbacks (they were hella cute too) and learning about her families history was so powerful.

The only reason I knocked off a star is because I felt like this book was too long for what it was, and it took me a long time to get into it. The first few chapters were really good, then it started dragging a lot in the middle, but the last hundred pages were so so so good. So the story is fucking amazing even though I still feel like it could be cut down considering it's nearly 500 pages.

This book also kind of reminds me of A Million Junes because of the magical realism and the parent dying but still being there somehow. This story focuses on the mother/daughter relationship while A Million Junes focuses on the father/daughter relationship.

I can't believe this is a debut novel and I can't wait to read more of Emily X.R. Pan's gorgeous writing in the future!

"Memories that tell a story, if you look hard enough. Because the purpose of a memory is to remind us how to live."
Profile Image for l..
491 reviews2,136 followers
January 7, 2022

Basically, I ditched all my would-be current reads and everything else in my life for this book (with Hamiltrash #1’s blessing), and it kind of (?) lived up to being one of my most anticipated 2018 releases. (rtc)

Pretty, pretty please, let me love this.


A female, half-Asian main character, a storyline set in Taiwan (!!!), and elements of magical realism, combined with lyrical prose—have my dreams actually manifested themselves into reality, or am I still dreaming? ✨
Profile Image for Eliza.
596 reviews1,377 followers
April 3, 2018

My mother is a bird. This isn’t like some William Faulkner stream-of-consciousness metaphorical crap. My mother. Is literally. A bird.

First of all, I love the quote above; such a phenomenal and humorous way to start a novel.

Wow, okay, this book went through so many ups and downs. But it doesn’t matter because it ended up being more unique and touching than I thought it would/could be -- and I couldn't be any happier by that!

The opening chapters of this novel are probably my favorite parts of it — the way it throws you into the action & emotion, and you’re supposed to learn/understand what’s going on as you follow Leigh through her journey to find her mother, the bird, is a great hook.

So I didn’t want to talk about this quite yet, but I can’t help myself. Axel and Leigh are such an adorable couple! I love how realistic and raw their love is for one another, and how shy they were to confess their feelings, since they were best friends first. It was super cute and realistic.

Even though I enjoyed the writing, relationships, pacing, and constant use of colors to describe emotions, I still couldn’t give this a full four stars; there were just too many chapters that dragged, in my opinion. The writing never got worse, however I felt like the topics of some chapters were slower than others — and while that’s normal for all books, this one felt too slow in some areas.

Overall, I’m surprised with how this book came together and how amazing everything turned out to be! I’m definitely glad this was my BOTM choice for March; it did not disappoint.
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,406 reviews11.7k followers
June 8, 2018
3.5 stars

Quite an ambition debut. There is a lot going on here - suicide, depression, family secrets, death, unrequited teen love, art, unsupportive parents, travel to Taiwan. Add to it a couple of layers of magical realism, and you get a very busy and long YA novel. Overall, I think the author balanced all of this well enough, but it would have been a tighter story without some of the trimmings - I could definitely have done without the synesthesia (or whatever all of the color talk was) and some of the magical realism stuff (it was an overkill in the cases when it bordered on pure magic). The book was strongest when dealt directly with depression as something that sometimes just can't be cured and the burden of dysfunctional family dynamics.

This is a strong Morris Award contender I think.
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