Early Book Review: The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff

The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff is a graphic novel currently scheduled for release on March 25 2014. The tradition of ghost brides in China is explored as a fairly hapless young man, Deshi, accidently  kills his older brother during an argument. Deshi's parent charge him with the duty of finding his brother a bride to keep him company in the afterlife, and he promises to do so. However, corpse brides are hard to find, and Deshi's journey is far from smooth. Along the way Deshi runs into Lily, an angry young girl running from her own problems, who just might be the answer to all of Deshi's problems. There is only one catch, Lily is still breathing.
In The Undertaking of Lily Chen, I was introduced to the ancient Chinese tradition of burying brides with the dead, which is still upheld by some in modern times. The subject is make even more interesting by the situation that brings this knowledge to the surface. Two brothers fighting and a tragic accident shine light on the perceptions parents have of their children, and how those children come to view themselves (even as adults) because of those expectations. Deshi and his brother have been filling the roles their parents expect them too. Similarly when we meet Lily she is trapped by similar chains, the expectations of a father and a culture with limited concern of her real self or future happiness. The characters are all not the most sympathetic- but there were all very dynamic and I was intrigued by them and their story. The one thing that did disappoint was some of the artwork. The watercolor landscapes and some scenes were absolutely amazing. However, I did not care for the character`s look. I thought they looked off balance and out of proportion for the majority of the time. Thankfully Novgorodoff's voice and storytelling ability tilted the balance and made this a very interesting read.

The Undertaking of Lily Chen is a moody, sometimes beautiful and sometimes disturbing, literary graphic novel. I would recommend it to readers that like unique graphic novels, but warn readers that crave extremely well drawn characters, that they might be disappointed on that front. The majority of the artwork is beautiful, and the concept and story itself are wonderfully told. If you can look past the flaws I think most readers will enjoy this read.

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