By Elizabeth Wroten
YA Review: The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgrodoff
On 08, Apr 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: In the mountains of Northern China ancient custom demands that every man have a wife to keep him company in the afterlife. Deshi Li’s brother is dead–and unmarried. Which means that Deshi must find him an eligible body before the week is up.
Lily Chen, sweet as a snakebite, needs money and a fast ride out of town.
Haunted by the gods of their ancestors and the expectations of the new world, Deshi and Lily embark on a journey with two very different destinations in mind. They travel through a land where the ground is hard and the graves, where marriage can be murder and where Lily Chen is wanted–dead and live.
I would have eaten this book up as a teen. It’s dark, it’s darkly funny, Lily is both spoiled and silly but also just young and naive and vulnerable, and it’s ultimately a love story. A love story that revolves around murder. Also, it’s a graphic novel, perfect for the reluctant reader I was.
Lily is too big for her small town not to mention her parents are in some financial trouble and may marry her off to a creep of a government official. When Deshi shows up, surreptitiously looking for a woman’s body to bury with his brother, Lily sees a way out. As they travel through the remote regions of China, Lily and Deshi begin to fall for each other. Certainly Lily is pretty, but she’s got big ideas and this can make her abrasive. Deshi is kind of a wimp and pairs well with the spunk of Lily.
The illustration style is by turns gorgeous and silly. There will be these amazing spreads like this:
and then there will be pages of action with Lily and Deshi and their arms will look like noodles and Lily’s curves are often over emphasized. Even the man Deshi has hired to find a corpse bride has this egg-shaped head.
The book is great for high school, but I could see an upper middle school kid getting into it. For that age, it would be one I would hand sell. Lily and Deshi are somewhere between the ages of 18 and 20, I would guess, which makes them good for high school students to read about, but I think the book also falls into that new adult category (although not because it has sexytimes, I hate that definition of new adult). Lily and Deshi are trying to figure out what to do in their adult lives. Deshi has some hard choices to make and Lily is lured to Bejing by the bright lights and promise of a better life.
My one concern about the book is a quote at the very beginning from an article from “The Economist” about a problem with ghost marriages. While the story centers around this phenomenon the quote makes ghost marriages sound exotic, problematic, and like an epidemic. I don’t know the truth behind this, but it sounds awfully sensational and it also sounds a bit like applying western ideas of marriage and the afterlife to a non-western culture. I think the story stands on its own without the quote and all it does is cast a pall (no pun intended) over the story that makes it feel more salacious than it is.