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The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
Young adult

The Astonishing Color of After


We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Emily X.R. Pan, on your first book!

by Emily X.R. Pan

Quick take

An emotional and magical story of a teenage girl who, after her mother's suicide, travels to Taiwan in search of her heritage.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Emotional


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Supernatural


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Teen



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.

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Why I love it

Kissing her longtime bff Axel in his basement was the biggest event in Leigh Chen Sanders’ life so far, until she gets home and learns her mother has taken her own life. Set adrift by her devastation, Leigh shuts herself off from the world.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Liberty, this book sounds so sad!” Well, it IS sad. But it’s also full of life and hope. It’s a remarkable examination of love, loss and family, written with a dash of magic and some of the most vividly beautiful language I have read.

Through a series of strange sightings and gifts, Leigh becomes convinced a beautiful red talking bird is really her mother, calling her to seek her heritage. Leigh’s visceral desire to discover her roots and hold onto her mother is achingly realistic and human. Pan does a magnificent job bringing art and grief to life. Through Leigh’s journey to Taiwan she experiences some difficult moments, but they are also the most insightful of her life. It wasn’t always easy to read about her journey, but my heart is so glad that I did.

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Member ratings (3,283)

  • Amy C.

    North Haledon , NJ

    LOVE doesn’t even describe how I feel about this book! I didn’t want it to end- yet I couldn’t stop reading. I loved the flashbacks and seeing parts of Leigh’s story through different people’s views.

  • Claudine D.


    This book had such a poignant tone and left me in awe of this writer’s storytelling skills. I actually “missed” the characters in this book after I finished this story. Must visit Taiwan nightmarkets!

  • Paula H.

    Hinesburg, VT

    Thought provoking glimpse into a young girl who’s in the throws of grief. I love the journey she took, between the here & there memories. Looking into the asian culture was a huge thing for me, loved!

  • Anne-Marie B.

    Chicopee, MA

    While I understand why people don’t like this book as much as I do. I can’t help but love this book. Not only did it get me out of reading slump when I first read it but as a debut, it’s so good.

  • Su H.

    AUgusta, GA

    Beautiful. It’s like this book was made for me as an Asian American who lost her mom at a young age and feared losing that piece and part of my culture. I felt ridiculously connected and so grateful.