I received a copy of this book on NetGalley from the publisher.
I can’t remember why I clicked to request this book. it might have been the cover art, which is totally stunning, or there might have been a promotional email? At any rate, I’m not entirely sure. But I was glad I read this lyrically written exploration of grief and identity, and learned about Leigh and her family.
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 and the burden of fulfilling her mother’s last wish, 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.
With lyrical prose and magical elements, Emily X.R. Pan’s stunning debut novel alternates between past and present, romance and despair, as one girl attempts to find herself through family history, art, friendship, and love.
I’m not generally a fan of magical realism, so I probably shouldn’t have chosen this book. As well as that, I found it very hard to get into it, putting it down frequently, and reading a few other books while this was still on my Kindle. I’m not sure what it was. Perhaps I’m too much of a neanderthal to appreciate the lyrically written prose or the interesting synesthesia elements of the main character’s narrative. Perhaps it’s that I’m not an artist and don’t see the world the same way that Leigh does. Maybe it’s even that I didn’t know what most of the colours she was listing for her feelings look like. My understanding of colours is limited to fairly basic colour names, as I’m a pleb.
But that said, once I did actually get into this book, there was a lot of really lovely stuff in there. Leigh’s relationship with her father, her mother’s mental health struggles, the difficulty of being a biracial child in two different cultures, and the struggles of families, and taking back something you didn’t mean – all of these were really wonderfully written and I thoroughly enjoyed what I read when I finally stopped faffing about and actually read it.
For me, personally, this wasn’t my favourite book of the year. But given that it’s a writing style that I don’t particularly appreciate, and a genre that I’m not a fan of, and a main character whose head I found it hard to get into, it’s not surprising that this wasn’t my favourite.
However, I can recognise that this book is very, very good. It’s just not for me. If you’re an artist, if you like beautifully written books, and if you like magical realism, then you will probably find this book to be utterly, heartbreakingly perfect.