Sunday 24 June 2018


Leigh Chen Sanders is sixteen when her mother dies by suicide, leaving only a scribbled note: 'I want you to remember'. Leigh doesn't know what it means, but when a red bird appears with a message, she finds herself travelling to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. 

Leigh is far away from home and far away from Axel, her best friend, who she stupidly kissed on the night her mother died - leaving her with a swell of guilt that she wasn't home, and a heavy heart, thinking she may have destroyed the one good thing left in her life. 

 Overwhelmed by grief, Leigh retreats into her art and into her memories, where colours collide and the rules of reality are broken. The only thing Leigh is certain about is that she must find out the truth. She must remember. 

OMGosh, this book has such a stunning cover. I love the feather. I love when you look closer and notice there are different shades of red blending into each other. Love the blood and birds, as well as the charcoal smears. Most of all, I love how relevant it is to the actual story. 

The day Leigh's mother ends her life, everything falls apart. Not just because her mother's gone, but because she left her daughter with so many questions. When Leigh finds a note that says I want you to remember and a red bird--she's convinced is her mother--gives her a box and tells her to go to Taiwan, she's determined to follow through.

Even though she doesn't know the language and has never met her grandparents, she stays with them and slowly puts together the lost memories of her maternal family's past. As well as re-discovering some of her own, and several family secrets...

Wow. This book grabbed me from the very beginning. I knew straight away that it was going to be a sad story, and wondered if it would be too much to deal with. But it was so lyrical, so well written and honest that I was hooked. I couldn't stop reading.

Told through Leigh's POV and drenched in the many colours of her grief, this tale also unfolds through the memories of her past with her parents and best friends. It's sprinkled with the unexpected memories of others, and a surreal magical element that made the words so much stronger. All of these elements stitch together all of the beautiful, yet haunting threads. 

Even if nothing can change the past, return her mother, or erase the deep pain she feels, everything Leigh discovers while in Taiwan makes her understand a lot more about the many things she couldn't otherwise grasp.

I also liked how her art is intricately associated with every facet of her life: how she sketched her parents, how she shares art with her best friend, that it causes problems between her and her father, and how ultimately her art helps her deal with everything she's going through.

The sense of setting is so strong throughout the whole narrative. Whether in the States or in the streets of Taiwan, the descriptions of Leigh's surroundings, interactions and food fly off the page vividly.

This was such a multi-layered book. The tangle of guilt and loss tied so tightly it's hard to separate. But at the core of Leigh's struggle is love. The confusion and uncertainty of first love, the complications of family love, and how even the strongest of love cannot change the severity of mental illness.

The Astonishing Colour of After is the incredibly sad and haunting story of a teenage girl who is so desperate to understand why her mother took such devastating measures that she loses herself in the process. It's heartbreaking, yet beautiful in a raw and painful way that engages the reader all the way through. 

I couldn't put it down, and really enjoyed every sad and lovely minute of it. I'll definitely be looking out for more novels written by this author.

The Astonishing Colour of After, April 2018, ISBN 9781510102965, Orion Children's Books

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