The title of this novel by Jessie Tu – A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing (Allen and Unwin 2020) – is absolutely apt. Jena is indeed a lonely girl, disassociated from friends, lovers, family, her musical genius, her work, and that does make her dangerous, not only to others but mostly to herself.
Once a child prodigy, she now uses sex ‘to fill the void left by fame’. Her life is filled with relentless rehearsals, casual sexual encounters in which she sometimes wields a great deal of power, and other times feels broken and used, managing relations with her demanding family and determining how best to follow her dreams. This novel explores female desire in a bold and brave way, never shying from the confrontational, never conceding to expected norms or societal expectations. As a debut novel, it is original, razor sharp and very dark.
While I can appreciate the novelist’s raw talent and experimental writing, this is not a book to which I warmed. I didn’t like Jena, and while that is not a pre-requisite for liking the novel, she did irritate me somewhat. There is a lot of ‘nothing happening’ going on in this novel – lots of twenty-something angst about life and self-identity. I suspect I am not the target market. Older young adult readers will no doubt flock to this book like moths to a flame. Some of the sex scenes felt gratuitous and I wondered if they would be accepted so readily by a male author. Tu is certainly fearless and fierce and it will be interesting to see where her writing goes next.