Quick Summary: It is a story about 3 siblings, separated at birth by either adoption or being placed in foster care, finding each other in their teens and navigating the complicated relationships in their lives: both adoptive and biological. The book is told through multiple perspectives, alternating through each sibling’s point of view. Grace just gave up her own daughter, after getting pregnant at 16, and discovers that she has two biological siblings she’s never known about. She reaches out to Maya, who is dealing with her own parents’ struggles and always feeling a little bit on the outside. Together, they find Joaquin, who has spent his life bouncing through the foster care system. As the book progresses, these three siblings discover each other while also learning more about themselves, their biological mother and the connections they never expected to experience.
My Take: Benway did an amazing job of exploring so many different angles and perspectives on what it means to be family. She integrated some hard truths about adoption, racial dynamics, and tensions between adopted children and both their birth mother/ parents and their adopted parents, but she houses those truths in tenderness and compassion. It's a powerful story, and I love the narration from three different, distinct siblings.
My conclusion: Overall, I absolutely loved this novel. Benway took on so many issues with her characters, and each narrator's voice was unique and so lovable. I did struggle a with the plausibility of some of the events, but that did not stop the overall impact of the novel. 4/5 stars.
What I added to my TBR list: Jen's pick, Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert, sounds like an awesome book, and it sounds like it hits on issues of family and race dynamics that I find fascinating and important to consider in our society.
Teaching Tips: This would work so well as a lit circle choice. It's a powerful read for students but would be a little long to move through whole class. However, the issues this book raises (such as what constitutes a family, why mothers opt to give up babies, and how to navigate relationships) would work so well with a wide array of other complementary books.
Podcast Highlights: I so loved the points that were made about adoption and the difficulty of giving up a baby because I think that highlights the issues that Benway raises about why mothers have to make those hard choices. I also loved the discussion we had about siblings and the amazing dynamics of sibling relationships.
The Astonishing Color of After, by Emily X. R. Pan, chronicles the journey of Leigh Chen Sanders as she goes to her mother’s homeland, Taiwan, in order to bring about some resolution for her mother (and herself) after her mother’s suicide. Shortly after her mother’s death, Leigh discovers that her mother has become a beautiful red bird, and she pursues the bird, which takes Leigh on a journey into the collective past of her family.
My Take: This book was stunningly beautiful. I also found it deeply painful to read. For a large portion of the book, I was worried that there was no hope for redemption or peace. The premise makes it clear that there is no hope for Leigh's mom (at least in her bodily form on this earth) as she has already succumbed to suicide as the book opens. However, I was completely captivated, and I found the twists and turns and magical realism that Pan weaves so smoothly into the text to be both compelling and comforting.
My conclusion: This was a stunning novel. Throughout much of the novel, I felt like I couldn't imagine feeling hopeful by the end, but it is remarkably uplifting considering the heavy content and premise. It was captivating, eloquent, and artistic. In short, I loved it. I was teary throughout much of it, but I found it cathartic and hopeful. Well done, Ms. Pan. I look forward to more works by this talented author. 5/5 stars.
Favorite Quotes: The memorable, gorgeous quotes are endless. I was taking photos of pages to capture the passages, and I truly felt that I could have photographed every page. I cannot believe this is Pan's first novel! Here are a few of the ones I loved.
Teaching Tips: This novel would be a great choice for lit circles, and it would work well with other works about grief, coping with loss, family dynamics, cross-cultural families, and second generation Americans.
My Take: Phew, this one was not what I had anticipated. In a lot of ways I wound up feeling disappointed and frustrated, but there were some things I enjoyed -- the language was lovely in places, and the characters' strong personalities really resonated.
My conclusion: While I appreciated some aspects of the novel, and I definitely found myself wanting to find out what was going to happen, I found myself disappointed by the end. I wanted to like both of the main characters a bit more (though I so appreciated something Roxanne Gay says in Bad Feminist -- we shouldn't (I'm paraphrasing here) be reading books to find characters that are likeable! I this that is an excellent point, but I couldn't relate to either of the women in this story enough.) 3/5 stars.
K. Ashley Dickson-Ellison is a former high school English teacher (who is now an instructional technology teacher) interested in exploring the integration of trending young adult literature into the English classroom experience. Ashley is also a member of the podcast Unabridged; check out the podcast site below.
Please note: All ideas and opinions are my own and do not represent my current or past employers.
© K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All thoughts and ideas are the author's and do not represent any employer.