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

A mother’s suicide draws a young woman into the biggest journey of her life. Upon her death, Leigh’s mother turns into a bird. A bright red bird that Leigh gets glimpses of in her peripheral vision… a reminder of her mother. A reminder or a sign or a message?

Leigh’s mother is Taiwanese and dropped all contact with her parents after she moved to the United States and married Leigh’s father. Yet, her mother’s death spurns a newfound interest in these relatives and Leigh travels to meet them. There she encounters a language gap that brings uncomfortable ignorance… and there are also some answers. The bird may be the only way to get to those answers.

There are so many details I’ll remember from this novel. Leigh’s mother’s relationship with the piano… marrying a ghost (slight spoiler), the guilt Leigh feels because at the same time as the suicide she kissed her best friend. Also, the colors… while Leigh’s mother’s gift is the piano, Leigh herself is an artist and she has learned to see and feel colors.

This is the story of a family broken by grief and something deeper, a history of division that had changed the course of Leigh’s life.

I’ve discussed this book with many of my colleagues. It seems like a very good book to use in our classrooms. Maybe a bit sad, but the writing is just beautiful, especially for a debut.

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