A white crane-like bird on a red and purple background

About the Book

Title: The Astonishing Color of After
Published: 2018
Swoonworthy Scale: 7

Cover Story: If You’re a Bird, I’m a Bird
BFF Charm: Let Me Love You
Talky Talk: Taste the Rainbow
Bonus Factors: Art, Taiwan
Relationship Status: Getting Serious

Trigger Warnings: This book deals heavily with themes of suicide, death of a parent, depression, grief, and abandonment. It includes mentions of electroconvulsive therapy, racism, and blood. I know, that sounds pretty heavy, and I totally get it if your initial instinct is to run the other direction. However! I thought this book was really beautiful, and if you can handle reading about heavy topics like those mentioned, I highly recommend this one.

Cover Story: If You’re a Bird, I’m a Bird

I love the jewel-toned red and purple ombre on this cover. And because Leigh has been seeing her mother as a crane-like red bird, everything here works. No notes!

The Deal:

After Leigh’s mother, Dory, dies by suicide, Leigh receives an early morning visit from a large, red bird. Somehow, Leigh knows this bird is her mother, and the box of things Leigh finds on the porch are both a gift and a message from Dory. Leigh is certain that if she can unlock the mysteries of a family she never knew, she’ll understand her mother’s last message to her.

Leigh’s father doesn’t believe her. But when unexplainable things begin to happen around their house, Leigh’s dad gives in and buys them two plane tickets to Taiwan to visit Dory’s parents. Leigh has never met any of her Taiwanese family, and with only a basic grasp of Mandarin, she knows that communicating with her Waipo and Waigong will be difficult. But she’s convinced that getting to know her grandparents and asking them questions about her mother is the only way to find the Bird. In Taiwan, Leigh uncovers family secrets, learns about her parents’ past, and gets to know her grandparents as she learns about Taiwanese culture and traditions.

BFF Charm: Let Me Love You

BFF charm with teary eyes hugging a heart

I mean…what else is there to say? Leigh needs a hug. She is fearless and determined in her attempts to chase down Bird-Dory, though everything she does is filtered through a lens of grief. There were times when I wondered how much of this magical realism story was magic, and how much of it was Leigh losing her grasp on reality as she struggled to understand her mother’s death.

Swoonworthy Scale: 7

The moment that Leigh’s mother dies, Leigh is hanging out on her best friend Axel’s couch, kissing him for the first time. Axel and Leigh have been inseparable for years, but Leigh blames herself for being with him when she should’ve been with Dory. So while Leigh is in Taiwan, she ignores the emails Axel sends her.

The reader gets a peek at their FriendshipPlus through Leigh’s flashbacks of the moments leading to the big kiss. And even though there’s plenty of other stuff happening in this book, we are not left wanting for swoony moments. Not like sexy-times swoon, but like, best friends whose knees accidentally touch during a movie night and everyone stops breathing kind of swoon. My favorite!

Talky Talk: Taste the Rainbow

The structure of the story is non-linear, with Leigh in real time – visiting with her grandparents in Taiwai – as well as flashbacks to earlier parts of her life. In addition to the flashbacks, the Bird leaves Leigh some incense that allows her to see parts of other characters’ lives that she wasn’t present for. Using all of these to lead up to the climax of the novel creates a story that’s as lush and foggy as Leigh’s experience.

I loved the way Leigh could feel colors and relate them to any moment or place. Pan’s writing strikes a perfect balance between poetic and contemporary. Here’s a couple of examples:

I make my way over to where he was throwing the bwabwei, right in front of the crowned statue. A teal curiosity settles in my stomach and my fingers itch to give a toss of my own. What answers could I get here? What questions would I ask?

Believing is a type of magic. It can make something true. 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.

Bonus Factor: Art

Girl in art studio painting in a notepad

Leigh is a super talented artist, and so is Axel! I loved the way she described every feeling and place with a color. And I also loved Axel’s medium of turning art into music.

Bonus Factor: Taiwan

A building in Tawiwan at desk with red lanterns and plants in the windows

As Waipo and Waigong take Leigh around Taipei, we get to see Leigh experience a part of her culture she never had a chance to before. This book will totally make you want to book a ticket to Taiwan. There were so many cultural elements I loved. Ghost weddings! The Ghost Festival! The FOOD OMG.

Relationship Status: Getting Serious

Y’all, I can’t lie to you. I am not normally the person to read, listen to, or watch anything “depressing.” When am I ever going to be in the mood for that?!???! Give me my fluff and leave me alone!

But this book…WOW. This book. So beautiful, so heartfelt and moving. And sure, tears were shed, but for every heartbreaking moment, Pan offers us an equally heart-filled moment. She breaks you apart AND mends you back together. I’m so glad I read it, and I hope you will too.

Literary Matchmaking

They Both Die at the End

For another Own Voices, magical realism story about understanding death and coping with grief, check out They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera.

The Ones We’re Meant to Find

The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He is a dystopian story about a girl who is retracing her lost sister’s steps, because she refuses to believe her sister is dead.

Loveboat, Taipei (Loveboat, Taipei #1)

Take another trip to Taiwan with Abigail Hing Wen’s Loveboat Taipei, about a teen whose summer study program is actually a teen meet-market.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Scholastic. I did not receive money or Girl Scout cookies of any kind (not even the gross cranberry ones) for writing this review. The Astonishing Color of After is available now.

Rosemary lives in Little Rock, AR with her husband and cocker spaniel. At 16, she plucked a copy of Sloppy Firsts off the "New Releases" shelf and hasn't stopped reading YA since. She is a brand designer who loves tiki drinks, her mid-century modern house, and obsessive Google mapping.