The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff

My oldest daughter just turned 7, and she is a voracious reader. She has always been an advanced reader, but when she was in kindergarten, she was reluctant to make the transition from picture books to chapter books. Her wonderful teacher introduced her to the Babymouse series. Since then, she has fallen in love with graphic novels, and so have I. Fortunately for us, our town library has a large selection of children’s graphic novels, and an even larger selection in the young adult section. Many of the books in the young adult section are not appropriate for my seven year old, but they are just right for me!

I found The Undertaking of Lily Chen at my library. It was a new release, and it caught my eye because it was displayed on the shelf. This graphic novel was written by Danica Novgorodoff.

This is the story of a young man named Deshi. After he accidentally kills his brother, his grieving parents task him with finding a ghost bride. This ancient tradition involves finding a bride for a deceased young man so that he doesn’t have to go to the underworld alone. However, this task proves to be more difficult than Deshi thought it would be, and he is not having an easy time finding an appropriate dead girl.

And then he meets Lily. Lily is dissatisfied with her life, and she and her parents find themselves on the verge of eviction, as modern life and industrialization creeps into their corner of rural China. Her one option is to marry the smarmy land manager, and that is not an option she wants to take.

Deshi happens to be walking by at the right time, and Lily attaches herself to him. At first, Deshi is annoyed by this, but then he realizes that Lily is exactly what he is looking for. There’s just one problem: she’s alive, and his brother needs a ghost bride.

Meanwhile, Lily and Deshi are being pursued by multiple people, including Lily’s father. Will he catch up to them? Can Deshi fulfill his parents’ wishes to provide his brother with a ghost bride?

The illustrations are phenomenal. I was absolutely blown away by Novgorodoff’s artistic style. There are multiple pages with no dialogue- just pictures, and they convey so much emotional depth.

I found this to be such an interesting book. At times, the tone is very light and humorous. As the different characters encounter each other, some funny interactions emerge. As the story progresses, there are some major revelations that put things into a new perspective. And ultimately, this is a very dark tale because Deshi does not want to disappoint his parents, and he is willing to do anything to provide his brother with a ghost bride.

I would absolutely recommend The Undertaking of Lily Chen. Although this is marketed as a young adult book, I think it holds a great deal of appeal for adult readers. The practice of finding ghost brides has its roots in an ancient tradition, but there are still practitioners in the 21st century. This story is a creative look at this very real and curious phenomenon. I thoroughly enjoyed this reading experience. If you’d like some more information, you can find it here:
The Undertaking of Lily Chen

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