Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Story of Lee (graphic novel, vol. 1) by Sean Michael Wilson & Chie Kutsuwada

The Story of Lee is a look at the life of a young woman in Hong Kong. Maybe contemporary family drama with a side of romance? It was one of my e-book checkouts.

This review contains spoilers.


The Story of Lee focuses on Lee's relationship with her family, her love of British music, her desire to go to London, and her attraction to Matt, a handsome foreign man.

Lee is in her early twenties and lives in Hong Kong. On the one hand, she is told she must show her father respect and keep in mind his wishes for her. On the other hand, Lee feels like her father's wishes for her are stifling her. She doesn't know what to do, but she's not happy with the way things currently are.

Lee's father couldn't be more obvious about his desire for Lee to marry Wang. There isn't anything wrong with Wang – he makes decent money and seems to like her – but Lee isn't at all interested in him. She goes on one date with him because her father basically forces her to, but she makes it clear that there will be no kissing or anything else. And all thoughts of Wang fly completely out of her head when she meets Matt.

Matt is handsome, blond, and British (Scottish?), and he writes poetry. Once Lee and Matt find an opportunity to talk, they realize they get along pretty well. They talk about British music, poetry, and more. It was nice to see Lee fully relax around someone and have a frank, open, and easy conversation with them. At first, I liked Lee and Matt's relationship.

In the end, though, I think I would have liked this graphic novel more if it had completed left out the relationship with Matt and focused more on Lee's relationship with her family and her wishes for her own future. The scenes involving Lee and her family were the strongest. It was sweet, watching her read to her sick grandmother, or seeing her talking to her uncle. It was easy to see that she loved them all, even her father, with whom she butted heads the most.

My worries about Matt first began when Matt and Lee were talking about British men and women versus Asian men and women. Lee said she preferred British men “because they are kind and caring. Not because of the way they looking” (70). Matt flat out admits that he prefers the way Chinese and Japanese women look to the way Western women look. However: “The ladies round here [in Hong Kong] are very attractive... But many of them don't seem to have much to say” (67). I let that go, because Matt truly did seem to like Lee for the whole package, her looks as well as her strong personality.

I was much less happy when, later on, Matt invited Lee over to his place to watch a movie. He assured her he wouldn't pressure her for sex, which I was fine with and even applauded. However, as they were watching the movie, Matt started kissing Lee and worked his way up to fondling her breast. She protested and was clearly uncomfortable. Here's the conversation they had next:
Matt: “What's wrong?”
Lee, embarrassed/uncomfortable: “...You said, 'no sex.'”
Matt: "It's only touching."
Lee: “What's the difference?”
Matt: “Sex and touching is different...”
Lee: “For me is not. It's not my culture to do such quick things...too soon.”
Matt: “Well, it's okay in British culture... And I think it's healthy for a man and a woman to touch.”
Lee, still looking uncomfortable: “This isn't Britain, we don't...”
Matt, smiling and moving closer to touch her chin: “I thought you wanted to be more 'international,' learn about other cultures. Well this is one example, right now.” (96)
He repeatedly made her uncomfortable and embarrassed, and, instead of respecting her desire to take things more slowly, pulled out the “I thought you wanted to be more 'international'” card. Um, excuse me? No. I was very, very happy when Lee once again put a stop to things and left, but it didn't erase the fact that Matt had just tried to talk her into accepting things she was clearly uncomfortable with doing and then never apologized.

When Matt and Lee eventually did have sex, it was after Lee had reached her lowest point. Her father had found out about her relationship with Matt and thrown her out, and then Lee had spotted Matt laughing with another girl. Lee got drunk at her friend Chang's workplace (Chang worked at a hostess bar) and almost got raped by one of the guys there. Chang dragged Lee back to her place to sober up, called Matt over the next morning, and then left the two of them alone. That's when they first had sex. Meanwhile, I was still wondering if the woman Lee had seen Matt with was really just a friend or if Matt had been lying, and whether Lee would ever be able to mend things with her family.

The happy ending was too sudden and left me wishing that the resolution with Lee's family had been fleshed out more. Since I was already unhappy with Lee's relationship with Matt, my unhappiness grew when the ending became thoroughly linked with Matt. As far as I can tell, a second volume of this series was never published, but I could too easily imagine that second volume featuring Matt leaving Lee behind for his friends and/or another woman after he was back on his home ground in Edinburgh.

All in all, the artwork was nice, and I enjoyed seeing how Lee would work things out with her family. Unfortunately, the romance did not work for me at all, to the point that it tainted the "happy ending."

  • The Complete Persepolis (graphic novel memoir) by Marjane Satrapi - Although The Complete Persepolis is a memoir and not fiction, it might work as a read-alike for those wanting something else focusing on the life of a young woman from a non-Western cultural background. I've written about this book.
  • Sorcerers & Secretaries (OEL manga) by Amy Kim Ganter - I own both volumes of this series but have yet to read them. I'm not actually sure whether it's a contemporary romance story or whether it has actual fantasy elements. It might work for those wanting a bit of romance and a heroine who dreams of something more in her life.

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