By SeÃ¡n Michael Wilson & Piarelle (NBM)
Just in time to make my St. Valentinesâ€™ day perfect comes the concluding volume of an engaging romance thatâ€™s kept fans on charmed tenterhooks for almost a decade now.
After far too long, the final instalment of the endearing confection which began delighting readers in 2011 brings some painful tension to a bittersweet transatlantic/transpacific shojo manga, which like its subject matter and stars was the happy product of more than one countryâ€¦
As written by Scottish author SeÃ¡n Michael Wilson (Breaking the Ten, Sweeney Todd, Portraits of Violence – An Illustrated History of Radical Thinking), The Story of Lee details the growth and relationships of a restless Hong Kong girl who falls for a young Scots poet and teacher.
Lee endured frustrated dreams dutifully working in her fatherâ€™s shop. The situation was uncomfortable: although he meant well, the traditionally-minded parent disapproved of almost everything Lee did and never stinted in telling her so. His disparagement and constant pushing for her to achieve something (becoming a dentist) whilst staying true to his old-fashioned ideas was tearing her apart, and Wang, the nice, proper Chinese boy he perpetually forced upon her, was a really creepy turn-offâ€¦
What they never realised was that Lee was a closet poet and pop music junkie besotted with western culture, particularly myth-laden London. In those unwelcome fascinations she was clandestinely supported by her frail, aging grandmother and unconventional Uncle Jun, a globe-trotting playboy who long ago abandoned convention and tradition to follow his own dreams to Americaâ€¦
At 24 Lee was being gradually eroded away until she met gorgeous teaching temp Matt MacDonald. Exotically Scottish, polite and charming, he was also a sensitive, talented poetâ€¦
Lee quietly defied her father and her relationship with Matt deepened, but when tragedy struck and grandmother was no longer a factor, further upheaval occurred after Matt announced that he was returning to his home thousands of miles away.
He dropped his bombshell and asked her to go with himâ€¦
Against all odds and family sentiment and via a memorable stopover in London, the lovers make it to Edinburgh – Mattâ€™s home town – and Lee enrols in college on a one-year student visa. Matt too goes back into full-time studyâ€¦
The city is a revelation: so many old and beautiful buildings, unlike HK where everything is always being torn down and rebuilt, and perhaps itâ€™s just that dizzying cultural adjustment which makes her feel Matt is acting a little differently now that heâ€™s in his on his own turf againâ€¦
Or maybe itâ€™s the oddly intimate relationship he has with the old college chum theyâ€™re crashing with? Richard is warm, welcoming and coolly into all the right music, but she canâ€™t shake the feeling that his relationship with her man might go beyond the normal bonds of friendshipâ€¦
Over following days Leeâ€™s apprehensions increase as Matt gleefully shows her around the nostalgic landmarks of his past and apparent proofs of Richardâ€™s feelings begin to emerge. Moreover, her charming man seems to be changing too: his gentle patience evaporates; heâ€™s snappish and even reacts jealously when other students – and even the local musicians she slavishly seeks out – pay attention to her. One thing she cannot adjust to is the undercurrent of hostility and casual aggression expressed by the young men in Scotlandâ€¦
Lee has never felt more vulnerable. She is a world away from home and security and increasingly wonders if sheâ€™s made the biggest mistake of her life. As tensions rise and the nurturing warmth the lovers shared deteriorates further, unexpected aid appears in the form of Uncle Jun who pops up for a visit and offers some startling adviceâ€¦
The tale resumes here as Lee thrives academically and makes friends among the students – particularly Chinese classmate Bo – but Matt is changing more rapidly as he falls further under the sway of Richard and begins neglecting his studies to hang with his bandâ€¦
Meeting his parents is an uncomfortable moment for the sensitive Lee and the mounting tensions come to an ironic head when news comes from Hong Kong.
Increased political unrest has led to an assault on her father. He cannot work and Lee feels compelled to cut her studies short and return to run the shop. No one has asked her to, but she understands duty and responsibilities even if Matt has seemingly forgotten themâ€¦
With excellent art from much-lauded London-based debutante Piarelle (AKA Pamela Lokhun) taking over from previous illustrators Chie Kutsuwada (volume 1) and Nami Tamura (volume 2), the age-old story unfolds with understated power as the lovers make decisions that will that will affect everybody and satisfy no oneâ€¦
Supplemented by a copious Glossary and Notes section defining the specific vagaries of accent and slang whilst offering geographical and historical perspective on the many actual locations depicted, this is a deliciously compelling drama playing with well-established conventions and idioms of romantic fiction and teen soap opera.
With beguiling subtlety, The Story of Lee explores themes of cultural difference, mixed-race-relationships, family and friendship pressures and the often-insurmountable barrier of different childhood experiences and expectations to weave an enchanting tale of independence, interdependence and isolation.
Moving and memorable, this is a timeless tale for modern lovers that you really should enjoy. And now thatâ€™s itâ€™s all over, surely a bumper compendium canâ€™t be far awayâ€¦
Â© 2019 SeÃ¡n Michael Wilson & Piarelle.