Publication Date: Available Now from Orion Childrens
Source: Review Copy
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.
This book is simply incredible. I absorbed it into my soul and cried like a baby when I finished it. I then put it on my review list and it’s taken me a while to come back to tell you all about it, but here I am.
“How could a person like her be depressed? She was full of energy and life and passion. The word depressed made me think of this group of kids at school who wore all black and thick eyeliner and listened to angry music and never showed their teeth. The ones who people sometimes called emo, making it sound like a bad word.
My mother wasn’t like that. Not at all.”
We follow Leigh in this novel, her thought, her feelings, her pain after her Mother dies – struggling to connect with her Father, she embarks on a journey through her mother’s past, in an effort to head towards her own future.
The writing in this novel is magical, lyrical and you get immersed into Leigh’s world so so quickly, her colourful, artistic world – one that baffles her Father but is embraced by her best friend Axel – “What colour?” is the question that drives Leigh through the narrative, even as she alienates those around her. With a stunningly insightful eye into the vagaries of mental illness, Emily X R Pan takes us into the depth’s of her characters psyche, using the mystique and magic of the Taiwanese culture and beautiful beautiful descriptive prose to hit it all home.
“My mother is a bird. This isn’t like some William Faulkner stream-of-consciousness metaphorical crap. My mother. Is literally. A bird.”
Leigh will strive to find her mother, to understand why and how, she will take you with her through it all and you’ll never never want to look up from the page. The sense of place, the sense of loss is palpable and melancholy – this doesn’t strive to explain depression but more to see the many layers, to understand the inner self, it is wonderfully done, using a strong, almost fairytale like prose.
“Her words come out in shattered pieces, unintelligible, thick with hopelessness, heavy under the weight of something that’s taken me years to even begin to understand.
Nothing is right, she says.”
I found this novel to be an intensely impassioned portrayal of grief and acceptance, both devastating and ultimately uplifting, I will never forget Leigh and her journey and Emily X R Pan is firmly on my list of authors to drop everything for.