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Comments for The Undertaking of Lily Chen

The Undertaking of Lily Chen: 11/16/14

cover art

The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff is a graphic novel about a brother trying to arrange a ghost marriage for his recently departed brother. Tradition states that an unmarried man needs a wife to be happy in the afterlife, and that means digging up a woman's corpse. The only problem, Deshi Li is grossed out by the whole process.

Meanwhile, there's a young woman who is stuck in a terrible family situation, with an abusive father, who wants nothing more than to escape and head for Beijing. She takes advantage of the situation, hitching a ride with Deshi. Lily is the type of beautiful woman Deshi images his brother marrying, except that she's alive.

For Lily, this mad dash is a means of escape and the adventure of a lifetime. For Deshi, it's a race against time. He knows his mother is at home sewing the wedding clothes for his brother and his corpse bride. It's also an escape from the man Deshi hired to help him find a bride (before he changed his mind).

The artwork for this graphic novel is bright and surreal. Even in the most mundane of scenes, there's the lingering threat of death, mixed together with a pallet one would see on circus posters. At first I found the disconnect between story and artistic style, too disconcerting. But as I got further into the story, I began to see how the artwork was working to build character. The dark, brooding colors are for Deshi and his unsavory task. The bright, goofy illustrations are for Lily and her enthusiasm for the future.

Four stars

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