Clap When You Land: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth AcevedoCan you be from a place you have never been? Can you claim a home that does not know you, much less claim you as its own? Camino Rios wonders what home really means, what family really means at the end of every summer when her father’s visit to the Dominican Republic ends and he goes back to New York City. Camino wants nothing more than to live with her father and put her apprenticeship to her curandera aunt to good use at Columbia as a pre-med student.

But no matter how many times she asks, Camino is still in the same home she’s always been. It’s not a bad home. They can clean up the mud after a flood, they have a generator when the power goes out, they can pay for Camino’s private school, and Camino’s father keeps her safe even if he can’t be there. But Camino knows none of that is enough to make her dreams a reality.

Can you be from a place you have never been? Can you claim a home that does not know you, much less claim you as its own? Yahaira Rios wonders that every time her mother talks about how happy she is to have emigrated from the Dominican Republic. She wonders more every summer when her father leaves them to visit the DR.

But Yahaira can’t ask either of them. That doesn’t mean that Yahaira doesn’t have a bad life. Her girlfriend lives next door. She’s a sensational chess player. Her mother supports her and her father is there most of the time. Just not every summer. But Yahaira soon realizes all of that isn’t enough to always keep her safe.

When Yano Rios’ place crashes on the way to the Dominican Republic both Camino and Yahaira’s worlds are shaken. Camino has to confront the reality of a world without her father’s influence to protect her, without his money to pay her school tuition. Yahaira is forced to unearth all of the secrets her father kept and what they have meant for her own life.

Can you know a sister you have never met? Can you claim a family that doesn’t know you? As Camino and Yahaira come to terms with their father’s lies and transgressions both girls will have to grieve everything they have lost while they try to understand what they have to gain in Clap When You Land (2020) by Elizabeth Acevedo.

Find it on Bookshop.

Acevedo’s latest novel is written in verse alternating between Camino and Yahaira’s narrations as both girls learn about their father’s crash, begin to grieve, and try to come together. Acevedo cleverly uses different stanza structures to offer some distinction between the two narrations and to powerfully highlight moments of solidarity between the two sisters.

Evocative settings and visceral emotions immediately draw readers into this story of loss and forgiveness. Both girls have benefited, in different ways, from having Yano Rios as a father. And both girls face difference consequences in the aftermath of his death. In the Dominican Republic Camino faces the possibility of having to stop school and dangerous threats from a local pimp her father previously kept at bay. Meanwhile, in New York City, Yahaira is finally confronting her father’s secrets–a burden she has carried for months after finding his second marriage license while searching for a way to reach him in the Dominican Republic after she is sexually assaulted on a crowded subway car.

Clap When You Land pulls no punches as it tells the story of a complicated family with immediacy and care. Hopeful, surprising, thoughtful and highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Untwine by Edwidge Danticat, Turtle Under Ice by Juleah Del Rosario, Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson, The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez

Amelia Unabridged: A Review

Amelia Unabridged by Ashley SchumacherAmelia Griffin and her best friend Jenna met because of N. E. Endsley’s Ornan Chronicles. They’re the books that gave Amelia a refuge after her father left and her family fell apart. They’re the books that gave her Jenna and, through her, a second family.

Seeing N. E. Endsley at an author festival should be the perfect start to their last summer before college. Instead, it all goes horribly wrong when Jenna has a chance encounter with the author and Amelia doesn’t.

Before either of them can back away from their biggest fight ever, Jenna is killed in a car accident.

Without Jenna Amelia isn’t sure who she is, let alone what her future should look like.

When a rare edition of the Ornan Chronicles makes its way to Amelia, she’s certain the book is a last gift–maybe even a last message–from Jenna. Amelia tracks the book’s journey back to a charming bookstore in Michigan where she also finds the reclusive author himself.

Amelia knows the book is a clue, a message. But it’s only as she gets to know N. E. Endsley that Amelia begins to realize the book is just the beginning of what Jenna was trying to share with her in Amelia Unabridged (2021) by Ashley Schumacher.

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Amelia Unabridged is Schumacher’s debut novel. The story is written in Amelia’s first person narration with some flashbacks to key moments in her friendship with Jenna.

This book holds a special place for me after I had the chance to read an early copy in 2020 to potentially blurb it. Schumacher’s writing is top-notch as she delivers a story that is both wrenching and hopeful.

This ode to books and magic (and books about magic) offers a meditative exploration of grief and healing as Amelia and Nolan (N. E. Endsley) both work through their own tragedies and figure out how to move forward in a world that their losses have rendered unrecognizable.

Amelia Unabridged is a nuanced and poignant story about finding your place and your people when all of the things you’ve learned to take for granted are torn away. Whimsical without being twee, authentic without being brutal; Amelia is a heroine readers won’t soon forget.

Possible Pairings: Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore, Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, Everything All At Once by Katrina Leno, The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Eliza and Her Monster by Francesca Zappia, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

No One Here is Lonely: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Change almost always starts with something tiny, far from the surface. With movement too small to notice or gauge, that travels up and changes something else, until there’s a long chain of altered things and then everything is different.”

No One Here is Lonely by Sarah EverettEden has always cared about two people a little more than anything else: her best friend Lacey and her longtime crush Will, even if he doesn’t know it.

When Will is killed in a car crash, Eden is haunted by the chances she didn’t take, the what ifs that she’ll never be able to answer. Worse, she realizes that she’s losing Lacey too as they begin to grow apart and the last summer before college that Eden envisioned for them goes up in smoke.

Alone with her grief, alone as she discovers that her parents’ perfect marriage might not be so perfect, Eden isn’t sure who to confide in when it feels like everything is changing. Then she finds out Will set up an account with In Good Company–a service that uses a person’s voice, emails, and other online records to create a digital companion.

The Will Eden talks to on the phone isn’t real. She knows that. But he also feels like the only person who has time for her now. As Lacey tries to figure out who she is without Lacey, she starts a new job and makes new friends. All with Will cheering her on.

As Eden is drawn to Oliver–Lacey’s twin brother–Eden will have to decide if choosing to focus on the future is worth letting go of the last pieces of her past in No One Here is Lonely (2019) by Sarah Everett.

Find it on Bookshop.

Everett’s sophomore novel blends light sci-fi elements with contemporary themes in this story of grief and growth. Eden and Will are Black (as is one of Eden’s new coworkers) while the other characters are assumed white.

Eden is completely adrift at the start of this novel. Will and the future with him that Eden imagined was one bold move away are gone. Lacey, a constant in Eden’s life for years, acts like their previous inside jokes are immature and wants to spend time with other newer friends. Then, at the worst possible time, Eden ends up in the middle of her parents’ marriage when she discovers signs of infidelity.

Despite knowing that In Good Company only offers a digital facsimile of a person, Eden clings to it–and to Will–as she tries to figure out who she is without all of the previous constants in her life. While there are hints of romance as Eden is drawn to Oliver, a friend she was never allowed to consider as more than an acquaintance out of loyalty to Lacey, this is really a story about a girl coming into her own and learning howto be her own best support.

No One Here is Lonely is a thoughtful story about grief, friendships, and learning to love yourself best.

Possible Pairings: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian

Life After Life: A Review

“This is love, Ursula thought. And the practice of it makes perfect.”

Life After Life by Kate AtkinsonOn February 11, 1910 Ursula Todd is born. She is not breathing. Dr. Fellowes is not there.

Darkness falls.

On February 11, 1910 Ursula Todd draws her first breath and begins a wholly unexpected life.

Darkness falls.

Hugh, her dear and prosaic father, enlists in the Great War. Long years later he comes home to his stoic and often inscrutable wife. Ursula dies during the ensuing influenza pandemic.

Darkness falls.

Again and again Ursula lives and dies and live once more. She keeps trying, keeps learning until there will be no mistakes in a life spanning both world wars and beyond. As Ursula tries to save the world she begins to understand that the first step, the bigger step, may be saving everyone she loves. For a person who gets more than one life, practice makes perfect in Life After Life (2013) by Kate Atkinson

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Life After Life is a stunning achievement. The plot of this novel spans decades and crosses multiple timelines, all in a nonlinear format following multiple characters in close third person. This structure and Atkinson’s prose create a distinct structure and a reading reading experience that rewards close attention.

This character driven story raises questions of ethics, familial loyalty, and identity. As Ursula lives multiple lives she and readers see how different choices play out and their long lasting ramifications for Ursula and the rest of the Todd family which notably includes Teddy, the protagonist of Atkinson’s companion novel A God in Ruins.

That is not to say Life After Life is an entirely comfortable novel. Many of the characters are products of their times with the related casual sexism and more overt anti-Semitism. While this makes sense for the time period and (some of) the characters, it is never interrogated in the story despite the often omniscient narrator watching the story unfold at a remove. Because of the multiple timelines, some events are explored from multiple lenses while others including many of Sylvie’s motivations are barely examined.

Life After Life is truly exceptional on a craft level with fantastic writing and a singular family. Readers interested in characterization, WWII, and world building will find a lot to enjoy here.

Fans of this volume should tread lightly before picking up the companion novel A God in Ruins which offers a very different, and far less satisfying, reading experience.

Possible Pairings: Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab, Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick

Scythe: A Review

Scythe by Neal ShustermanIn a post-death world, everything should be perfect. And maybe it is. There is no hunger, no disease, no poverty. Even aging is optional.

Sure, some things are boring–maybe even stagnant–but when you can literally go splat to shake things up without any consequences, does that matter?

Even a perfect world is still only so big. The population still needs to be controlled.

That’s where the scythes come in.

As the only agency who operates outside of the control of the Thunderhead–the AI that helped make this utopia a reality–scythes are tasked with culling the population. Each scythe has full freedom to choose their own methods, their own victims, and their apprentices.

Neither Rowan nor Citra expect to attract a scythe’s attention before turning their first corner. They are even more surprised when, instead of being gleaned, they are told that Scythe Faraday has chosen both of them to be his apprentices.

The problem: Only one of them will become a scythe at the end of the year. In fact, only one of them may survive in Scythe (2016) by Neal Shusterman.

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Do you ever read a book and just not get it? That was me with this one.

I’ve read Scythe twice and, honestly, I still don’t understand a lot of the appeal. The story alternates between third person narration following key players–primarily Rowan and Citra–as the story unfolds. Excerpts from scythes’ journals add another layer exposing some of this world’s inner-workings as well as its steady decay.

Shusterman has created a compelling and fully realized distant future world with a sprawling story exploring corruption, stagnation, and what living in a utopia really means. Unfortunately most of the characters fail to live up to this setting often feeling one dimensional and flat. One could argue that is the natural result of living in a world free of conflict and challenge, but that caveat doesn’t make them any more interesting to read about.

The final act of Scythe picks up a lot with increased tension, better pacing, and numerous twists even if the characters, in a lot of ways, fail to make truly key changes. I’m still not sure if I’ll knuckle through the rest of the trilogy. Recommended for readers who prefer  dystopias in utopian clothing and plot driven novels with a heavy dose of philosophical posturing.

Possible Pairings: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Skyhunter by Marie Lu, Amber & Dusk by Lyra Selene, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Gravemaidens: A Review

Gravemaidens by Kelly CoonKammani dreams of becoming an accomplished healer–the position her father held before he failed to heal the lugal’s son and his family was cast down from the privileged class as punishment.

While her father drowns the shame of his disgrace and grief over his wife’s recent death with drink, Kammani manages the day to day work of treating patients. Her hopes of securing a better life for herself and her sister Nanaea are shattered when Nanaea is chosen for the dubious honor of becoming one of three sacred maidens who will accompany the ailing lugal into death.

While her sister only sees the opportunity to live briefly in luxury, Kammani knows becoming a sacred maiden is a death sentence. Determined to save her sister at any cost, Kammani embarks on a dangerous mission to sneak into the palace and try to heal the lugal before it’s too late in Gravemaidens (2019) by Kelly Coon.

Find it on Bookshop.

Gravemaidens is Coon’s debut novel. It is the first book in a fantasy duology set in a non-western world with piecemeal nods to ancient Sumer, Rome, and possibly Egypt with human sacrifice and a powerful god known as the Boatman.

Clunky prose and world building that falls short in terms of explanations about the ritual of the sacred maidens or other cultural norms drag down this otherwise interesting premise. Anachronistic phrases and over-the-top similes further detract from the novel’s potential. Kammani’s first person narration is filled with strangely sexualized descriptions of other female characters, including her own younger sister, with numerous mentions of full and shiny hair, straight teeth, and “womanly curves.” Throughout the novel this sexualization is equated with the preternatural beauty that distinguishes each sacred maiden.

Secondary characters who stay true to stereotype for most of the novel gain more depth near the end suggesting fans may find more to appreciate in book two.

Gravemaidens is a problematic but intriguing story. Make of that what you will.

Popular Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis, The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana, The Grace Year by Kim Liggett, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan, Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in an issue of School Library Journal*

Picture Us in the Light: A Review

“I don’t believe you can put anything meaningful into the world without having a kind of innate generosity, something to give of yourself.”

Danny Cheng feels stuck. He’s got an eye toward college next year with an acceptance to RISD with a full ride and, rarer still in Cupertino, complete support from his immigrant parents.

But Danny is still haunted by the loss of a friend who committed suicide last year and every time he tries to imagine next year without his best friend Harry Wong he finds himself spiraling into a panic. Not to mention wondering if Harry really is as in love with his girlfriend, Regina Chan, as he claims.

When Danny finds a box of old news clippings and letters in his father’s closet he starts to realize that there might be a reason his parents never talk about their past–a reason that Danny never would have imagined.

As Danny hurtles toward the end of his senior year and delves deeper into his family’s past he will have to confront uncomfortable truths about his parents and acknowledge his own dreams and wants if he ever wants to move forward in Picture Us In the Light (2018) by Kelly Loy Gilbert.

Picture Us In the Light is Loy Gilbert’s sophomore novel.

Danny is the core of the story as he tries to imagine a future without Harry and away from everything he knows in California. His existential dread at both prospects is palpable in Danny’s first person narration and makes for a tense read. Loy Gilbert’s prose shines while focusing on Danny and his friends but an overly packed plot detracts from what should have been a character driven novel.

With so many things happening to Danny it is, perhaps, unsurprising that the final act of the novel feels rushed after a slow build up with layers of suspense padded with a lack of communication between characters–especially between Danny and Harry as Danny struggles with how (or if) to tell Harry that he is in love with him and has been for years.

Picture Us In the Light is a complex story about connection, privilege, and hope. Readers able to overlook a sensationalist plot will appreciate Danny’s relatable narration, clever dialog, and authentic characters.

Possible Pairings: Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman, The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui, American Panda by Gloria Chao, Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier, Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai, Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest and Kali Ciesemier, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk, Frankly in Love by David Yoon, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

You Are the Everything: A (WIRoB) Review

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books:

cover art for You Are the Everything by Karen RiversSixteen-year-old Elyse Schmidt is eager to get home to California. Anywhere is acceptable, as long as it’s away from the damp Parisian air that irritates her Junior Idiopathic Arthritis (or “Junky Idiotic Arthritis,” as she calls it) and all of the things that didn’t happen on her trip: romance, kissing, and, most disappointing of all, bonding with her longtime crush, Josh Harris.

Elyse and her school band had been “in Paris to play in a band festival, which turned out to be no different from every band festival in America,” except this time, Elyse was hungover and played badly, and her band placed third. On the plane home, she wishes she could “undo everything, especially the stupid fight” she’s in with her best friend, Kath.

But she can’t, which becomes painfully clear as the plane continues its progress home.

Elyse’s wish for something to happen on the plane, “something that would make this trip worthwhile after all,” goes horribly awry when the plane crashes, leaving Elyse and Josh as the only survivors in You Are the Everything (2018) by Karen Rivers.

Find it on Bookshop.

During the disaster, Elyse reminds herself of all of the things that she never made time for before: “You never went to Wyoming. You never fell in love. You never decided who you were going to be. You never finished your graphic novel. You didn’t live long enough to warrant an autobiography. You never thought of a good name for the YouTube channel that you never started.”

She hopes to do things differently if she has a second chance.

Elyse is “aware of deciding” of choosing between living and dying. Then it’s a few months later. Elyse is in Wyoming. Despite the horrendous losses (of Kath, of her classmates, of her own eye), her new life could be pulled from the pages of the graphic novel she never finished: Me and Josh Harris: A Love Story.

She always knew she “might be able to make the story real if [she] want[ed] it badly enough,” and now, in Wyoming, she and Josh are finally together. She is “the girl who was dead and is now alive.” She is Josh Harris’ girlfriend — part of the couple everyone else at school wants to talk about. She is happy. This, Elyse knows, “is what dreams look like when they come true.”

She still isn’t as confident as she could be, but after the crash, Elyse realizes that she is “so much braver and sharper, as though the crash carved off [her] dull edges, leaving [her] as glistening and dangerous as a razor.”

Her brain doesn’t work the way it did before. Time doesn’t pass the same way. Elyse tries to ignore these changes and what they mean, but slowly, painfully, she sees how spotty her memory has become and how the pieces of her new life don’t quite fit together the way they should.

Elyse realizes that “it’s only possible to ignore an obvious truth for so long before you have to acknowledge it” and is forced to confront what really happened during the crash, along with all of the regrets that come with that reality.

Memories and dreams blend with the visceral reality of the crash. This heady story capitalizes on the reader’s limited point of view to give the novel’s conclusion the most impact. The stream-of-consciousness style and sweeping tone of Elyse’s second-person narration are striking contrasts to the pace of the story, much of which is set on Elyse’s flight home.

The unusual choice to write the novel in second person lends an immediacy to the text and gives each pronouncement more impact as the story builds toward its poignant conclusion: “Your mouth is full of blood and teeth and regret for all the things you didn’t do and you are crying for the year when you were seventeen, which isn’t going to happen.”

While parts of the story feel emotionally manipulative, the blend of affecting prose and a character-driven plot make for a smart and sometimes surprising premise. Readers of books in the vein of We Were Liars by E. Lockhart or A Room Away from the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma may guess the novel’s inevitable outcome long before Elyse herself does.

You Are the Everything is an emotional novel about unmet potential and missed connections, resignation, and acceptance, and, at its center, a girl who never had the chance to finish deciding what kind of person she wanted to become. “Just a splice in time when all of the everything can happen that will ever happen and now you can just stop trying so hard, you can just let go.”

Possible Pairings: But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, A Room Away From the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma

Everything All at Once: A Review

cover art for Everything All at Once by Katrina LenoLottie Reaves doesn’t take risks. She prefers to play it safe. But even her usual caution is no help when her aunt Helen–the one person who always seemed to understand Lottie’s anxiety and panic–dies of cancer. But Lottie and her family aren’t the only ones mourning. After Helen’s death it feels like the whole world is mourning the loss of the beloved author of the Alvin Hatter series about siblings Alvin and Margot and the chaos that follows when they discover an elixir that grants immortality.

After Helen’s death it feels like Lottie is spinning out as her panic about death, life, and so many other things start to feel so much bigger. Grieving and feeling more than a little lost, Lottie receives the most surprising inheritance from Helen’s will: twenty-four letters each filled with a dare designed to help Lottie learn how to embrace change and risk.

Helen promised the letters would lead to some bigger truth, answers to questions Lottie hasn’t even learned enough to ask yet, but as she steps outside of her comfort zone and learns more about her aunt, Lottie also discovers the shocking secret that inspired her aunt to write the Alvin Hatter books–a secret that could change Lottie’s life forever in Everything All at Once (2017) by Katrina Leno.

Find it on Bookshop.

Leno’s latest standalone is part contemporary coming-of-age story and part fantasy with heavy nods toward Tuck Everlasting and Harry Potter. The narrative is broken up with letters from Aunt Helen and excerpts from the Alvin Hatter books throughout.

Lottie’s first person narration is sometimes claustrophobic as she struggles to work through her panic and anxiety. Leno handle’s this portrayal with honesty and authenticity as Lottie tries to find coping mechanisms that work for her while also trying to overcome her anxiety when it prevents her from doing what she really wants. Everything All at Once is the first time I’ve seen a novel truly capture and explore the fear of mortality that hangs over a grieving person expressed so clearly.

On her journey Lottie has conscientious parents, a supportive younger brother, and a funny and smart best friend willing to follow her on every adventure. There’s also a cute but mysterious boy and one of my favorite romantic exchanges (One character asks “Are you saying we’re not friends?” And the other replies “That’s exactly what I’m saying.” And it’s perfect.) But I can’t tell you much more without revealing too much.

Everything All at Once is strongest as a story about grieving, growing up, and an ode to reading and fandoms. Leno plants seeds early on for more surprises (some of which are heavily broadcast) but it also can feel like one element too many. Recommended for readers looking for an empowering story about growing up and working through loss. Or readers who love Tuck Everlasting but wanted more banter and kissing.

Possible Pairings: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, 10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston, 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, The Sullivan Sisters by Kathryn Ormsbee, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble

The Astonishing Color of After: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. PanLeigh knows that her mother turned into a bird after she killed herself. The bird came to her before the funeral. She came again with a box for Leigh to take with her when she goes.

She isn’t sure what the bird wants or how to help her mother. All she knows is that she and her father are now in Taiwan and Leigh is meeting her maternal grandparents for the first time.

Nothing about the trip or her family is what Leigh expected. Her world feels colorless and confusing–coated with grief and filled with ghosts. But as Leigh learns more about her family, her heritage, and her mother’s past it starts to feel like Leigh might be able to find a way through in The Astonishing Color of After (2018) by Emily X.R. Pan.

The Astonishing Color of After is Pan’s debut novel.

It’s taken me a while to review this book because I’ve been struggling with separating how hard this book is to read with how very good it is.

The novel opens shortly after Leigh’s mother has killed herself. Leigh comes home just in time to see her body being taken away, to see the blood, and she is haunted by the thought that she might have been able to do something if only she’d been home instead of celebrating 2.5s Day with her best friend and longtime crush Axel.

Leigh finds a way to channel her grief when a bird comes to her. Leigh knows it’s her mother. She knows the bird is real. She also knows that her mother the bird has things she shouldn’t have–photographs that were burned, heirlooms that were sent to Taiwan.

In traveling to Taiwan Leigh thinks she can somehow rescue her mother the bird and bring her home. Instead Leigh embarks on a journey of discovery and understanding as she learns more about her heritage and her family’s past. She still hurts, she still mourns, but she also begins to learn how to move on and how to forgive.

In traveling to Taiwan Leigh also begins to learn more about her family’s heritage and culture–things that were hard to hold onto as a biracial girl–especially with her mother eager to embrace her new life in America and leave the past behind.

The Astonishing Color of After is not an easy read–Pan’s writing is too visceral, too evocative for that. Instead readers are immediately drawn into Leigh’s journey. Flashbacks shed light on Leigh’s relationship with Axel–a thread that ties the novel together from its painful opening to its hopeful conclusion–while memories from Leigh’s relatives shed light on her mother’s past while also underscoring the flaws in Leigh’s memories and the things she has tried to forget.

The Astonishing Color of After is a powerful and nuanced story about loss, forgiveness, art, and all of the things that make a family–whether it’s blood or a deeper bond. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi, Starfish by Akemi Dawn Boman, The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui, Tell Me No Lies by Adele Griffin, Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, 500 Words or Less by Juleah del Rosario, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, American Street by Ibi Zoboi