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.
FEELS!!!!!!!! ALL THE FEELS!!!!!!!!!! The Astonishing Color of After brought to light feelings for me that I didn’t know I was feeling or needed to feel. I cried tears I didn’t know I needed to cry. This book resonated with me in ways I’ve never experience before while reading. This book re-broke my heart but it also healed it in ways I couldn’t heal myself.
Let me start at the beginning… Leigh’s mother commits suicide. Her mom’s name is Dorothy and goes by Dory for short. While my mom didn’t commit suicide, she did die unexpectedly in August of 2016. I know, I know you’re thinking what does this have to do with the book but just put your patient pants on. My mom’s name was Doria, and she went by Dory. While Leigh was lucky enough to be the one that didn’t find her mom, I wasn’t lucky enough to have the same luxury. I could relate to how Leigh was feeling on so many levels. So much so, it felt like the author had interviewed me and then written the book based on that interview. Leigh feels like she is to blame partly for her mother’s death. She feels like if she would have only done x better, if only she’d been in y place at z time she would have been able to save her mom. I know because I had these same thoughts and still do until this day. After reading this book and realizing there just wasn’t anything I could have done to change the outcome of what was destined to happen. But just because my mom isn’t physically here anymore doesn’t mean she’s gone forever. I still see her in myself every time I look in the mirror. She is always with me.
The magical realism aspect of this book brought the journey and the imagery to life for me. I could picture this big beautiful red bird soaring around Leigh. The more I read of this book the more I found myself looking to the sky to see what is out there for me, and then I realized that looking to the sky is something that I’ve done since the day my mom died. I find myself looking around at the clouds and the sky seeing if there is a trace of her looking down on me. Now my favorite time to look to the sky is at night and I imagine her as one of the stars looming overhead keeping an eye on me.
The characters in this book are so real. Leigh, her grandparents, her dad, and Axel. Though, I must admit I feel as though the story could have been just as good without Axel. Sometimes he just seemed to crowd the story and take away from what was happening. I think my most favorite character was Feng, and all the she represents. I absolutely loved this aspect of the book. I also loved Ghost Month as this was something I had never heard of before and it and it reminds me of one of my other favorite holidays El Dia de los Muertos. I loved learning about the Taiwanese culture.
The way the author wove this story together through her words brought the magic and the storytelling to life. Her writing style worked extremely well for the subject of this story and I can’t wait to see what she is going to write in the future. The only aspect of this story that just didn’t mesh for me were all the colors sprinkled throughout the story. Honestly though, that is such a minute detail that it’s barely worth mentioning.
As you can see this story hit me very close to home, and I am so incredibly grateful to the author for writing it. It re-broke my heart and then helped to heal that same broken heart.
Now, on to the important bits… Suicide… If you are ever in a position where you feel that you just absolutely can’t go on do me one solid. Pause. Pick up your phone, and text HELP to 741741. This is the number for the Crisis Text Line. You will be connected to one of their trained Crisis Counselors. I am a trained Crisis Counselor on the CTL and I can guarantee you that you are not alone in how you’re feeling. Ask for help, we’re here to listen, we’re trained to help you. You are not alone. Just remember 741741 and HELP. That’s all it takes and someone will be there for you.