The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan is a book about love–familial and romantic. In the aftermath of her mother’s suicide, Leigh spends the majority of the summer with her grandparents in Taiwan where she comes to terms with the fact that her mom has turned into a bird. The boy back home, her best friend, makes his appearances throughout the novel in heart-meltingly sweet flashbacks from Leigh’s previous school semester.
Pan writes this YA novel with eloquence that is hard to describe without using all the colors in the rainbow. She uses writing, a beautiful form of art, to explain a story about the colors of her character’s life, emotions, senses, and paintings–another fantastic form of art. With an impossible number of colors to work with, Pan never uses a single word twice to denote each one. They all slither, burst, spark, or flame their way into this novel.
When it comes to descriptions that aren’t associated with colors, though, Pan lags a bit in the “telling vs. showing” department. A few too many times, I caught her using lines like “I felt/I wondered/I wanted” which all could have been explained perfectly had she written those feelings like she did with the colors. However, her whimsical descriptions of the colors that flow into Leigh’s life after her mother’s death makes up for any areas where Pan lagged.
Overall, this YA novel is worth the read, but don’t get your hopes up for a romantic summer story. Instead, prepare for a family-centered novel with a touch of teenage love.