The Astonishing Color of Ever After
By Emily X. R. Pan
pp. 480 Little Brown and Co.
Published March 2018
“Write what you know” is the advice paraded before all writer-hopefuls as if it were inscribed on both the Egyptian pyramids and on the Rosetta Stone. We all have it memorized because it has been tattooed on our eyelids. It is the rock-solid quotation that each writer thinks before starting their journey from having no more than a fleeting thought to a fully fledged novel. We flirt the line between thinking what we have to say is boring and sharing our experiences on a soap box.
Emily X.R. Pan’s novel “The Astonishing Color of Ever After” follows the core tenets of this advice. “Write what you know” is not instructing us to write about the time we stole all of the marshmallows from the cereal box and blamed it on our siblings. It asks us to find meaning in our everyday experiences. This book is born from Pan’s experience growing up in the Midwestern United States as the daughter to Taiwanese immigrant parents. She beautifully writes what she knows, or rather what she is familiar with, through a female protagonist named Leigh Chen Sanders.
After her mother died, Leigh is sure that she has transformed into the majestic red bird that frequents the corners of her vision. Sure, she acknowledges that it sounds a little crazy, but per the bird’s urging she and her father go to Taiwan to visit her maternal grandparents. She finds herself face to face, not with the red bird, but with all sorts of ghosts: family secrets; the reason her mother refused to talk about her parents; and the overwhelming guilt founded in the fact that while Leigh was out with her best friend and longtime crush Axel, kissing him for the first time, her mother was killing herself.
Full of artistic prose that spans the past and present, faith and disbelief, friendship and romance, memories and dreams, Pan’s novel is a fresh perspective on loss and the love that is found afterward. As Leigh grieves, she falls into the pattern she and Axel had shared before their relationship became so confusing — of seeing the world through color. She associates emotions with specific colors, through which Pan paints a striking picture of grief and regret.
Renée Ahdieh, bestselling author of “The Wrath and The Dawn” states in her book blurb that “With its lyrical writing and heartbreakingly real protagonist, The Astonishing Color of Ever After provides a poignant reminder of grief’s power and the transcendence of love.” It is a stunning debut novel that reads like Emily X. R. Pan has been publishing for years.
This book is for those who are grieving. It is written as a comfort and a challenge. Its prose asks the reader to suspend disbelief and enjoy a little bit of love’s magic in order to heal. Pan’s novel is an elegant coming of age novel, or bildungsroman, that is for those of us that are curious about what happens after death. “The Astonishing Color of Ever After” is a colorful example of what it takes to be brave in grief. Leigh Chen Sanders learns with the reader what it means to be growing into the space after grief: finding solace in the form of remembrance and loving reflection without ever forgetting.