Astonishing Color of After (Pan)

The Astonishing Color of After 
Emily X.R. Pan, 2018
Little, Brown & Company
384 pp.

A stunning, heartbreaking debut novel about grief, love, and family, perfect for fans of Jandy Nelson and Celeste Ng.

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 stunning and heartbreaking novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Emily X.R. Pan currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, but was originally born in the Midwestern U.S. to immigrant parents from Taiwan. She received her MFA in fiction from the New York University Creative Writing Program, where she was a Goldwater Fellow.

She is the founding editor-in-chief of Bodega Magazine, and a 2017 Artist-in-Residence at Djerassi. The Astonishing Color of After is her first novel. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
(Starred review.) The subtlety and ambiguity of the supernatural elements place this story in the realm of magical realism, full of ghosts and complex feelings and sending an undeniable message about the power of hope and inner strength (Ages 12–up).
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review.) An exploration of grief and what it means to accept a loved one's suicide, this book's lyrical and heart-rending prose invites readers to take flight into their own lives and examine their relationships.… [N]ot to be missed (Gr 9-up). —Stephanie Charlefour, formerly of Wixom Public Library, MI
School Library Journal

(Starred review.) Dynamic, brave Leigh emerges vividly in Pan's deft hand, and her enthralling journey through her grief glows with stunning warmth, strength, and resilience.

[H]aving Leigh express her feelings in terms of color is distracting and adds little to the story. [Still, this is an] evocative novel that captures the uncertain, unmoored feeling of existing between worlds …[and] seeking hope and finding beauty even in one's darkest hours (Ages 14-18).
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. The novel opens, "My mother is a bird." What role does the bird play throughout the story and how does it change as the story progresses?

2. The story has a nonlinear narrative where it’s told in the present and through flashbacks. Why do you think it was told through this narrative structure? Did you find it effective?

3. Throughout the book, Leigh struggles with her identity as someone who is half white and half Taiwanese. How do you think she ends up finding her identity?

4. Communication is an ongoing issue in the book, whether it is Leigh with her grandparents or with her best friend, Axel. Does communication ever get easier for Leigh? Have you ever experienced something similar to her?

5. What significance do food and tea bring to the book? How did they affect your understanding of the characters?

6. When Leigh meets Feng, she is jealous of Feng’s connection with her grandparents. How does Feng serve as a foil to Leigh’s character?

7. The book has a realistic setting with elements of magic. Why did the author choose to incorporate magic? What impact did magic have on the novel?

8. Why do you think Leigh’s mother kept her sister a secret from her daughter? If Leigh had known this secret earlier, how would it have changed the way she viewed her family?

9. Grief is at the core of this novel as Leigh tries to find closure after her mom’s death by suicide. How does her family treat mental health? Why do you think there’s still a stigma on mental health issues?

10. How does Leigh use color to convey her emotions? What color do you think represents the novel?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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