The Undertaking of Lily Chen

The past month and a half have been rough. After the holidays, the four of us (my husband, both kids, and I) took turns having some sort of illness. When one got better, someone else went down. Thankfully, no one got the full blown flu, just a bug that lasted a day. And then there were respiratory infections and ear infections. Now I’m battling a horrible infection (I’ll spare you the details) and on antibiotics and seeing my doctor twice a week. I was in pain for 3 weeks and am finally feeling better. Needless, to say, I am ready for spring.

It’s February in Chicago. It’s the dreary end of winter but it’s not quite spring. We’re stuck somewhere in between and it’s not a nice place to be when you’re in the midwest. The snow is dirty and piled high. It’s been raining all day so the sidewalks are slick. I almost wiped out 3 times just going from my car to my front door. And we haven’t seen the moon for days. My poor daughter has been so sad. “Mama? My moon? Where go?” I tell her it’s hiding and she nods wisely, like she’s not almost 2 but 12.

I read this book back in December but I haven’t written about it because it’s lingered, like a dark and twisty kind of dream that I can’t put into words. It starts off with a tragic accident, where Deshi’s impulsive action results in the death of his older brother. His parents banish him until he can find a corpse bride for him, an ancient Chinese tradition, so that he won’t be alone in the afterlife. It’s repulsive and fascinating at the same time. Hence the dark and twisty part that appeals to my sensibilities. But what comes of his quest are unexpected.

The illustrations are rough and at times … ugly. It’s a harsh word and I don’t mean it to be critical. It’s appropriate and fitting. But then, there are surprises. There are beautiful, dreamy, water color spreads of the countryside and mountains. There are wordless moments where I think I might have held my breath. It was not at all what I expected it to be. And that is one of the things I love about reading – finding the unexpected.

I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley and now it no longer works. I’m anxiously waiting for the print version to be available because I want to read it again. I want to see if it is as I remember it or if parts of the dream have shifted. In the meantime, I am trying to get my hands on other books by Danica Novgorodoff.

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