Review of 49 Days

49 Days 49 Days
by Agnes Lee; illus. by the author
Middle School, High School    Levine/Levine Querido    352 pp.
3/24    9781646143740    $24.99
Paper ed.  9781646143757    $18.99

The Buddhist belief that the soul goes through “a state between life and rebirth” for forty-nine days before crossing over provides the intriguing structure for Lee’s debut graphic novel. The story straddles the worlds of the living and the dead, beginning with a Korean American girl named Kit awakening by a shore. She treks along the deserted beach toward an unknown destination, only to wake the next day in the same spot where she’d started. Repeated excursions lead to a seeming demise as she slips off a boulder or gets swept away by a powerful tide. As the scenes progress, they begin to include flashbacks, with memories of the communal activity of preparing kimchi providing glimpses of the ties of family. A parallel plot shows Kit’s family in the present day coping with their grief. Each story line has its own soft palette (grays for Kit’s wandering, muted orange for the memories, reddish brown for Kit’s family now), with wordless panels appearing frequently and showcasing the bold, dark line drawings. Juxtaposed disparate shots challenge readers to infer the narrative continuity and meaning in between panels. The forty-nine rapidly paced chapters unpack a tale of grief, loss, love, and healing through a metaphysical journey of redemption and self-discovery. An author’s note touches on the broad spectrum of Buddhist traditions regarding death.

From the May/June 2024 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Jerry Dear

Jerry Dear, information strategist at the San Francisco Public Library, also teaches in the Library Information Technology program at City College of San Francisco. He contributes to the blogs for APALA, Hyphen Magazine, and No Flying No Tights.

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