It’s a truth that if you want to get me to read and love your book you need to have
1-an amazing cover
2- some sort of magical realism or fantasy (hopefully with dragons)
cat- really really good characters.
The Astonishing Colour of After has almost all of those things that I need. (Well, minus the dragons, but there’s definitely some magic involved!)
First let’s just adore the cover of this book. It’s so pretty! (And the spine!!) I ordered the U.K. edition because I fell in love with the cover and because it was a floppy paperback, which if any of you know, is my all time favorite type of book.
Now…here’s the thing, this is going to be a non-spoilery review, though that being said while this seems like a wonderful and beautiful story, this deals with a lot of heavy topics such as depression and suicide. (This is not a spoiler, this is literally on the back of the book in the synopsis)
So, first impression: This book is huge. I don’t know what the page count is for the US edition but my edition clocks in at 460 pages, which is slightly daunting.
This story starts with the suicide of Leigh’s mother and starts in the present tense, and then flashes back to when her mother was alive and back again. It’s slightly confusing though I noticed about half-way through the book that the chapters actually say which part it is. (Which was super helpful) But coming on the heels of this tragedy, Leigh’s dad decides they both need to go to Taiwan to meet up with the grandparents that Leigh never knew about. Leigh not only is having a hard time with the death of her mom, but also feeling some guilt about liking and kissing her best friend Axel, and she decides not to tell him that she’s going to Taiwan at all.
Instead of me just raving and going in circles, I’m going to point out some things that I just didn’t care for or that should have been caught during editing, and also some things that I loved.
Things that needed a bit of work:
-The cast of characters. Look I understand that we get the main character’s pov, and I understand that we need her pov, but the problem was that most of the other characters that interacted with her; her grandparents, her dad and even Axel, were sometimes flat and uninteresting. They didn’t really seem to have a purpose. I do have to say that they started to get more fleshed out towards the end of the book, but for the majority of this book I didn’t feel like we should care about them.
-the length. Did I mention that this was over 400 pages? This is not usually a bad thing but I felt like there was a section in the center that could have been scraped or tighter edited and wouldn’t have changed anything about this story.
Now to things that I loved:
-I loved the idea of Leigh and Axel having a colour moment. When things got weird or different, their first question to each other was “What Colour?” and they would explain the colours. Leigh also did this while describing things and emotions in Taiwan and it made me really happy because that’s kind of how I like to explain things, certain colours make me so happy.
-The setting! Oh my word, I’ve never been to Taiwan but reading this book was like I’ve been there. She describes the food and the way she felt and I just felt like I was seeing it all brilliantly displayed.
-The magical realism part. Ok, so this is where it gets a bit weird. Leigh is convinced beyond everything that her mom has turned into a bird. A big red bird. And she keeps seeing this bird everywhere. There’s also some interesting moments with incense and charcoal and memories but I’m not going to get into those. Also there was a slight twist at the end, which I kinda guessed but not fully, which is great!
Overall: even though there were a few difficulties and it was a pretty dense book- I liked it. I gave it 4.25 stars rating, and am pretty sure that I will pick this one up again because there was so much involved in it.
I do want to say, Emily X.R. Pan does not sugar coat what it’s like living with someone with deep depression/suicidal tendencies. This is not a happy book, but it’s a very real very honest book about these dark topics (and I did laugh quite a few times through out this because there were lighter moments) but warning you, if you think it might be too much, don’t read it.
I think for a debut it was wonderful and perfectly delightful. The lyrical writing reminded me of Laini Taylor and I read it in one night, so it’s pretty addictive.
-When Leigh’s mother dies by suicide she leaves only a scribbled note–I want you to remember. Leigh doesn’t understand its meaning and wishes she could turn to her best friend, Axel, if only she hadn’t kissed him and changed everything between them. Guided by a mysterious red bird, Leigh travels to Taiwan to meet her grandparents for the first time. There, Leigh retreats into art and memories, where colours collide, the rules of reality are broken and the ghosts of the past refuse to rest…but Leigh is determined to unlock her family’s secrets, to remember.
Happy reading you wonderful book dragons! And remember, life is too short to read mediocre books!!
(originally published as a guest post on thatbookgal.wordpress.com )