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, 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.
Publication Date: 22nd March 2018
I liked the way this story was written, how the author used colour to describe feelings, I had an inkling that was going to happen going into the story and I wasn’t disappointed. This story is very artistic, there is a lot of emphasis placed on colour and music and how they make you feel and in turn represent feelings. If I was more arty I would have loved this book more, while I found the approach interesting I couldn’t entirely relate, and so the book wasn’t as magical or thought provoking as it should have been.
The logical part of me thinks colour is subjective. What I might consider purple, you may think is pink and this is further confused when applying colour to emotions. Colour has been used beautifully through this book to describe an emotion or feeling but at times I felt it was inaccurate as to what I would consider the colour of an emotion to be. What you are left with then is a character that is at times harder to understand and relate to, when the colour was right it was right but when it was wrong it was wrong. Colour is so differently interpreted even across cultures let alone individual people and while I loved the concept a lot I think it changed my reading experience slightly.
In the beginning we are presented with a mystery, Leigh is an average teenage girl who returns home one day to find her mother has killed herself. On the day of her mother’s funeral her mother seemingly returns as a bird who wants her to go to her grandparents in Taiwan. The story is told in both the present and flashbacks and memories as Leigh tries to workout the last thing that her mother wanted to know before she killed herself.
“I want you to remember” scribbed on a note that was dumped in the bin. But what does she want Leigh to remember?
It often felt like this story was on a loop – scenes were repeated so many times I started to get annoyed. There were moments that mattered, that were made important by Leigh’s feelings or thoughts, but when these moments were repeated they mattered less and less. I got bored of how many times I read about Leigh not being able to sleep, how many times she discussed or thought of the bird, how much she envied Feng and felt like a stranger with her grandparents, how much she clearly liked her best friend but thought she had ruined it. It went on and on. It felt like this story was a handful of very original thoughts that were recycled again and again.
Whilst I love magical realism I didn’t feel like it added much to this story in the end. The most poignant part of the book for me was in the last few chapters. All the magic of the smoke memories did nothing to convey the sense of loss and grief, that the realistic and heart-wrenching conversation between Leigh and her dad towards the end of the book managed to achieve.
DISCLAIMER: I was given this eARC by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Rating: 3/5 stars