“I would have carved out my heart and my brain and given them to her just so she could feel right again.”
The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R Pan is a magical realism novel. After Leigh’s mother commits suicide she is convinced that her mother has turned into a bird. She never knew her mother’s parents so she and her father travel to Taiwan to meet them. During her trip Leigh continues to see the same bird over and over, she’s sure that her mother is trying to tell her something and is determined to stay in Taiwan until she figures it out.
This is the first book that I’ve been told was magical realism. It was a little strange to get used too, mostly because it really seemed like I was watching Leigh have some kind of mental break. I know it was just supposed to be magic but I was hard to get used to this aspect. I’m not really sure that I ever did, but that’s okay. It didn’t ruin the story though. Especially because this book is focused around mental health already, it was easy too see it as comment on how it just takes one emotional trauma like losing your mother to suicide to trigger a change in a person’s mental health.
“I hated the word condition, but it was easier than calling it what it really was. A war. Her depression was a big thing we were all battling together.”
Pan did very well showing Leigh’s struggles when watching her mother disease consume her. It’s not said in the novel, but my assumption would that her mother has manic depression due to her extreme highs and lows. Pan’s language using drew me in making me feel like I was part of the story and because of this I want to say that this novel should not be read if you are not in a place to read about depression and suicide. While I didn’t find it deeply triggering it did bring me a sense of sadness for knowing exactly what it’s like to be in a low like Leigh’s mother. While I knew that it affect the people around you Leigh’s viewpoint really brings this to light and that was what I had a hard time with, knowing how my mental health affect those around me and how deep the hurt can become.
Much of the magic in this book is explored in an interesting way upon arriving at her grandparents house in Taiwan she finds essence inside of a drawer. When she lights one she sees her grandparents’ and parents’ pasts. After the first time of doing this she starts burning things with the essence to take her back to specific place in time. When she does this she learns more about why she never met her grandparents. Flashbacks are hard to do right, but Pan manages to pull them off in a way that isn’t completely jarring, which is great because a large chunk of this book involves flashbacks.
Pan tackles mental health in a fantastic way. I’m glad that I finally got around to reading this novel. It’s a great way to show an outside perspective on mental health while still being interesting and non clinical. But, again this is not a good book to read if you find anything about suicide and depression to be triggering.