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

the astonishing color of after graphic

the astonishing color of afterGoodreads / Amazon / Barnes and Noble

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.

I think I just have an issue with beautiful prose books with birds.

When I read Shatter Me all those years ago, I took up a fight with the MC constantly talk about birds. Or seeing a bird. Or maybe being a bird? IDK, but it was a lot about birds. This? This was a lot about birds. And every time, our MC would mention it, I would have flashbacks and then I started imagining this book to be Shatter Me, and then it was a mess.

I think this book had potential to be a lot more, and I can see why some people love it. However, I think I walked into this novel with a few different expectations along with not being fully preared for what I was bound to get.

First, I didn’t realize this book was magical realism. I’ve been sort of okay with magical realism in the past; however, I just thought maybe Leigh was translating her grief into her mother being bird and that would be it. However, when a lot of magical things started happening, it kind of threw me off. I felt like the magic would kind of pop in and out, and I really didn’t understand the parameters around it. What was the limits of the magic? Why did no one question it? Was it just a given that her mom really was a bird?

Second, pretty prose really isn’t my jam. I believe Pan definitely has a way with words, and the descriptions that she created were wonderful. However, I’m more of a reader that just kind wants to move along. I definitely think readers that love vivid and intense descriptions will enjoy, but I felt like it was far too deep for me.

The speed of the story gave me issue as well. It moved at a glacial speed. I usually don’t mind stories that focus on characterization and inner journeys which was why I was so excited for this book. However, I felt every time I would get interested or invested in the story, I would instantly fall right out because it would just keep moving in circles and things I didn’t understand/feel like I need to understand or know about.

cinderella tag
Cindy likes birds. They help her with dresses.

However, despite these huge issues, there were some very good parts that did keep me reading. The main character, Leigh, was good, and I did enjoy her voice. I liked a lot of the side characters, and the vibes of the story had a magical, whimsical feeling that I did enjoy yet also felt very grounded. The story also tackled very important issues in a very deep and beautiful way. The ship was very cute as well.

Despite all the good things, I found the other issues to be too overpowering for me to truly enjoy. I think I was just not the right person for this story, but I think a lot of people that can appreciate gorgeous, flowery prose and magical realism and a slower pace will enjoy this story a LOT more. Also, um, I’m kind of scared of birds? 2 crowns and a Cinderella rating!


What do you think? Are you into books with intense prose or want more simplistic writing? Do you enjoy magical realism? Let’s discuss in the comments below!


10 thoughts on “The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan

  1. Awww, sorry this didn’t work for you. I actually loved the pretty prose and appreciated the way the magical elements were incorporated. This story evoked a ton of emotion from me, and I really appreciated Leigh’s journey through her grief and working through her identity issues. I thought Pan did a wonderful job immersing me Taipei – the sights, the sounds, the food <– a lot of that, it was awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s always on the shelf at the library. The summary never intrigued me, but everyone somehow likes it. I might as well pick it up whenever I get the chance

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I thought this book was pure contemporary as well, so to hear that it’s magical realism is surprising for me too! Also, I love pretty prose, but it’s often the case that lovely writing can become tedious and slow as you said. Maybe I’ll still give this a go, but I can see your issues with it. Fantastic review! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hmmmm intense prose can be hard to love when things move so slow. Pace is such a huge thing for me next to characterization. If it goes to slow, I fall asleep…but if it goes to fast, I’m a cartoon with a spinning head. Confused! Lovely review, Mandy!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.