I don’t usually prefer contemporary or books that focus on suicide, but when I heard about The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, I decided to give it a chance. And it blew me away.

On the day Leigh kissed her best friend, Axel, her mother took her own life. While her father grieves in his own way, Leigh is visited by a bird that she believes is her mother. In an effort to uncover answers, Leigh travels to Taiwan to meet her grandparents. There, she hunts for answers to her mother’s suicide, the appearance of the bird, and the grief flooding her life. 

The writing style of this book is absolutely gorgeous. Leigh sees the world through color and art, which is evidence in every single description in this book. I never felt the writing was too flowery or over the top. Occasionally a color description would strike me as odd, but because the book is so ingrained in the magical realism aspects, I give it a pass.

As for the characters, they drew me into the story. Leigh’s first person narration is raw and relatable, which also meant at times I was fed up with her behavior (until I realized that I act that way too). Axel is adorable and sweet, and I love that their art strengthens their relationship. I like that this book focuses on Leigh’s relationship with her grandparents and how that connects her to her mother. The way the story weaves various narratives with Leigh’s as she tries to uncover more and more about her mother’s past is truly incredible.

The magical realism aspects are what tripped me up the most. At times, I couldn’t tell if something was actually happening to Leigh (like with the weird visions or the bird) or if it was all in Leigh’s head due to lack of sleep. I don’t think, in the end, this spoils the story in anyway, but I was hoping for a more firm answer.

The most important thing about this book, though, is how the author handled mental health and the aftermath of a suicide. Any book about suicide is tough to both write and read, but Emily X.R. Pan navigates the grief and emptiness with careful grace. She does not romanticize it. Instead, she shows the affects it has on numerous people.

Overall, The Astonishing Color of After is a unique and powerful take on the tragedy of suicide. It’s one of those books that you reach the end and you kind of have to remind yourself to breathe again.

~I checked out a copy of The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan from my local library and chose to review it of my own free will. All opinions are my own.~