Reading Level: Adult
Genre: Graphic Novel/Fiction
Size: 432 pages
Publisher: First Second
Release Date: March 25, 2014
Stand Alone or Series: Stand Alone
Rating: 4/5 stars
A while back I read and reviewed Slow Storm by Danica and honestly didn’t enjoy it all that much. However I keep seeing The Undertaking of Lily Chen and wanting to read it…so when I saw it at the used book store I decided to pick it up. I am so glad I did, this is a very interesting look into Chinese culture and an interesting story.
The story follows a young man, Deshi, who has accidentally killed his older brother in a fight. His mother and father are extremely distraught, to the point of wishing that the younger son (Deshi) had died instead. They demand that the young man find his dead brother a corpse bride (a young, dead Chinese woman) so that they can be wed and their eldest son will not have to go into death alone. However, dead young women are in short supply in China.
Lily is the only daughter of a farmer. Her father is going to marry her off to pay their debts, but Lily is fiery and disagreeable. She wants to make her own choices and live her own life. She flees her home and stumbles into Deshi. Lily could be the answer to all of Deshi’s problems…if only she weren’t so….alive.
There are so many interesting aspects to this story. The idea of a corpse bride is fascinating. Basically young dead Chinese men can be wed and married to a young dead Chinese woman so that they don’t have to venture into death alone. It is an antiquated practice that has been finding resurgence in China.
The family that Deshi comes from lives in town and has broken the one child only law. Despite this they are very traditional and truly see their second child as a “backup” and not as useful as their eldest.
Lily’s family is a farming family. They have not broken the one child only law, but really could use more help on the farm. They are much more modern in viewpoint than Deshi’s family. However when push comes to shove Lily still has very few rights as a Chinese woman.
Looking at the contrast between the two families is interesting and fascinating. However there is a more personal story here as well. Deshi is obviously in mourning over his brother’s death. He is torn between trying to do right by his family and brother and trying to do what he feels is right as far as Lily is concerned. Both the main characters are fascinating. The culture is intriguing. The whole thing is an excellent read.
The illustration style is very distinct; if you have read other graphic novels by Danica this is more of the same. I am not a huge fan; I tend to like my illustration with a bit more detail and definition. This style is more simplistic, although there are some beautiful watercolor backdrops throughout. So, I would recommend taking a look through the book and seeing if the style appeals to you.
Overall a fascinating graphic novel that was interesting to read and highly entertaining. I really enjoyed it. This gives an interesting look into Chinese culture while still providing a story that is engaging and heartwarming. Recommended to those who love graphic novels.