The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
TW: Suicide and Depression
This book was beyond stunning. If I could just leave my review at that, I would. This book was beyond stunning.
In this book, we follow the events that happen after Leigh’s mother commits suicide. Leigh is not certain of a lot of things after the event, but she is sure of one thing and that one thing is that her mother became a bird once she died. Leigh is half-White and half-Asian, travels to Taiwan for the first time to visit the maternal grandparents that she didn’t know she had. She goes to follow the clues left behind by her mother and this leads Leigh down a path of not only self-discovery, but discovering more about her culture and her family.
This magical realism story uses colors in a way that is stunning and literally paints a picture of mental health, grief and family. I am so grateful to Emily X.R. Pan for giving us this stunning story that explores the intersection of the Asian/Asian-American identities and mental health. This intersection is definitely not something that is explored, particularly by Asian/Asian-American authors. As an Asian-American woman who has and still struggles with mental health illnesses, this was not only a breath of fresh air but I found this to be incredibly necessary and validating.
This book doesn’t shame Leigh’s mother or her story, and it doesn’t fully only evolve around her mother’s suicide. Her mother’s suicide is the core of the story, but shows us just how interconnected mental health is with not only our experiences, but with the experiences of those around us. This story honors Leigh’s mother and her experiences, and it melted my heart.
At the end of the story, there is a note from the author where she shares her own familial experience with suicide. This note is what really set off my emotions and left me a blubbering mess of tears. I didn’t realize how much I held my breath throughout this book because I didn’t realize how overwhelmed I felt with how seen this book made me feel. I’m a bit of a blubbering mess just thinking about it all, but this book is a very important book and I hope to see more stories around this specific intersection in how mental health and culture impact one another.
If you haven’t read this book yet, GO GET IT! This is definitely one of the most stunning books I’ve read this year and I cannot wait to see more from Emily X.R. Pan.