REVIEW: The Astonishing Color of After, Emily X.R. Pan (March 20, 2018)

Today I am coming to you with another five-star read for me. I knew going in that THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER was going to be up my alley–but holy emotions, Batman, I didn’t expect to be a stuttering pool of salt water. But what’s new?

And also looooook at that B-E-A-U-tiful cover.

The 411: After Leigh’s mother dies by suicide, she is visited by a large, strange bird at night. Afterwards she comes to the impossible but amazing realization: her mother isn’t dead. She’s been reincarnated into a bird.

Leigh makes the trip to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents, with whom her parents had a falling out with due to their interracial marriage. Leigh sorts through her family history, all the while experiencing recurring visits from the bird she’s convinced is her mother.

Oh boy. Ohhhhhhh boy. This book is so beautiful.

Leigh’s mother’s depression feels achingly real–and speaking as someone who was diagnosed with depression at age 14, I connected with her so much.  Her depression and her death are not romanticized, compared as to say, 13 REASONS WHY.

I’ve only recently gotten back into reading fantasy, and I haven’t had a lot of experience with magical realism–but if all magical realism books are like this, I may have found a new favorite genre.

It makes me so intensely happy to see how much representation there is in YA lit nowadays. And if it means so much to me now at 27, I can’t even imagine how much it would have meant to 10-year-old Kate. Reading a cast of characters 90 percent Asian or of Asian-descent is still amazing to me.

And the romance is friends-to-lovers. My absolute favorite thing in the entire world. *throws all the heart-shaped confetti at Emily X.R. Pan*

NOTE: I’ve had several conversations with people who are interested in this book but are wary of the YA label. I have a lot to say in regards to this snap judgment as a whole, but for now just know:

A) Yes, the character is a teen but very mature
B) No Insta-love or love triangles if that’s not your jam
C) YA is awesome no matter your age. So just do yourself a favor and pick up the book.

** Trigger warnings for depression, suicide ideation, and suicide.

MY RATING:  ✰✰✰✰✰
RECOMMENDED FOR: lovers of magical realism, family intrigue, and beautiful writing
MAY I ALSO SUGGEST: anything by Anna Marie McLemore and BEASTS OF EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCE by Ruth Emmie Lang

Thank you LBYR for my galley! The Astonishing Color of After is available March 20–and is also a Book of the Month pick for March.

REVIEW: A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara

My face looked exactly like the cover for the 820 pages of this book.

Imagine every single horrific thing that could happen to a person. They happen to Jude. Yes, everything. The entire time you’re itching to reach through the pages and give the poor guy a hug.  Dude has been through the wringer.

And if you’re looking for a “I get by with a little help from my friends” sort of story, you’re only going to be marginally satisfied. This book is brutal. B-R-U-T-A-L.

A LITTLE LIFE follows four friends, Willem, Malcolm, J.B., and Jude, from college (where they meet) into old age.  Each guy has their individual challenges: J.B. is a drug addict, Malcolm is questioning his sexuality, and Willem is an aspiring actor (I think that’s ’nuff said).

Then we have Jude. The mysterious, ever elusive Jude.

Throughout the first section, we learn as much about Jude as his friends know: he’s an extremely quiet person who reveals little to none of his past. His racial background is ambiguous. His sexuality is never defined.  All they know is that they feel an innate desire to protect him from the world, Willem in particular.

Starting with section two, our POV switches to Jude and we get an extremely detailed first hand account of the horrors he experienced as a child, as a grown man, and how they’ve shaped him into the person he is today.

You’re either going to love this book or you’re going to absolutely hate it. I am positive that there is no in-between here.

Ok. Real talk: this is hands down the most depressing and emotionally-wrought book I have ever read. And I live for depressing and dark books. The trigger warnings are up the WAZOO. Self-harm, emotional abuse, pedophilia, rape, suicide…Basically you are even the slightest bit iffy about any of these things, this is NOT the book for you.

Yanagihara writes beautifully, but it’s graphic. No holds barred. By the time you close this book the final time, you will feel like you know Jude on an extremely intimate level. While covering the lives of Willem, J.B., and Malcolm, as well, A LITTLE LIFE is a 800+ page character study of Jude. And it’s brilliant in its simplicity and portrait of a broken man.


Over the course of his life, Jude attempts suicide multiple times and the book finishes with him finally succeeding. Throughout A LITTLE LIFE, Jude tries over and over to make the best of his life. He tries to get better and he just doesn’t. By the time he actually does kill himself, it feels like an inevitable conclusion. Yanagihara said in an interview,

“It’s not that I don’t think people can’t overcome great trauma, but I think for some people, there is a line. There’s an amount. And they’re not able to come back from it.” 

Whether you agree with this statement or not, the death of Jude feels like a release. And then you’ll sit with your pool of tears and mangled heart and contemplate the meaning of life.

The bottom line: If you can stomach it, I highly recommend A LITTLE LIFE. You’re going to cry and you’re going get angry and you’re going to feel emotionally spent. But the payoff is so worth it and completely deserving of being a National Book Award finalist. ✰✰✰✰✰