2020 Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction, Allen & Unwin, Australia, Australian Women Writers Challenge, Author, AWW2020, Book review, Fiction, Jessie Tu, literary fiction, Literary prizes, New York, Publisher, Setting

‘A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing’ by Jessie Tu

Fiction – paperback; Allen & Unwin; 304 pages; 2020.

A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing is Jessie Tu’s debut novel. It’s an uncompromising look at a talented young violinist trying to fill the void left behind when her fame as a child prodigy has died out. It’s about trying to find your feet as an adult, breaking free of the shackles of your (infamous) past and starting again. But it’s also about love, sex, self-esteem, self-worth — and self-destruction.

Rebuilding a career

Written in forthright first-person prose, Tu rarely pulls her punches. She lays bare one young woman’s pain and confusion as she tries to rebuild a massively successful career that went bung when she had a breakdown on stage. Here, she presents Jena Lin as a dedicated and hardworking musician trying to reinvent herself in a small, incestuous classical music world in which she’s long been pegged as a child star whose flame has burnt out.

She has twin struggles to juggle. Professionally, she endures a chaotic schedule of rehearsals, concerts, auditions and relentless practice, while personally, she has to “manage” an overly strict mother, who finds it hard to let her little girl go.

One of Jena’s coping mechanisms is to use sex with almost-strangers to make her feel alive or to give her a sense of being grown up. When she meets Mark, a much older man, she becomes consumed by him, to the point that it begins to affect her friendships and her working life, including a potential opportunity to go to New York to join one of the world’s leading orchestras.

Brave and audacious tale

It’s a brave and audacious tale, told in a refreshingly frank voice. I wasn’t sure it would be a story for me. I seem to have read a LOT of novels about millennial young women lately and I didn’t think this would anything new to the mix. But I was wrong.

A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing turned out to be a gripping, occasionally shocking read (there’s a lot of sex in it, you have been warned), but its real strength lies in its perspective of an Asian-Australian trying to succeed in a closeted world dominated by the white and the privileged.

I really loved its originality, its fierceness and its unflinching attitude. I reckon this one might just appear on my Books of the Year list for 2020 I enjoyed it so much.

If you liked this, you might also like:

‘Exciting Times’ by Naoise Dolan: Another story of a millennial woman trying to reinvent herself, who hooks up with an older man before realising her heart desires other things.

‘Adèle’ by Leïla Slimani: A confronting and deeply thought-provoking tale about a married woman who has a penchant for rough sex with a succession of strange men she picks up in the unlikeliest of places.

This is my 5th book for #2020ReadingsPrize for New Australian Fiction and my 21st book for #AWW2020.

22 thoughts on “‘A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing’ by Jessie Tu”

    1. I think we generally like to read about people close to our own age, don’t we? I liked this one because of its take on seeing the world from (1) a former child prodigy’s perspective and (2) a young woman of colour’s perspective. It’s not a perfect novel (there are some clunky parts about Trump, for example), but it’s very impressive for a debut novelist.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t think it’s that, not quite. It’s more that as life dishes out whatever comes the author’s way, she (hopefully) gains maturity, maybe some wisdom, more awareness of life’s complexity, greater recognition that things and people’s motivations aren’t black and white, experience of encountering grief and loss and looking back on that from the perspective of years or decades, plus (probably) some long festering resentments and grudges that have power precisely because they’re enduring. Characterisation tends to be more multi-dimensional, less narcissistic. The author herself has almost certainly read more books (just because she’s lived longer) so she knows more about people and their motivations that way too. I’ve admired quite a few debut novels, but the novels I really love are usually written by experienced writers who’ve practised their craft for many years and have many rich experiences to draw on.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, that’s all very true… and kind of what I meant to say but I was too lazy and exhausted to elaborate 🤪 By the same token I also like reading about younger people because I can see the error of their ways etc because I’m reading from a position of “wisdom” and have gone through many of the same things so I can identify with the messiness and mistakes and insecurity etc.


    1. Let’s hope Allen & Unwin UK / Atlantic have the foresight to publish in the UK market at some point… I think it would find a wide audience, and the themes are universal.


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