#MWFDIGITAL: Jessie Tu – A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing

Tu trained as a classical violinist for more than 15 years. Failing to succeed as a professional musician, she taught music at Kambala, St Ignatius College, MLC Burwood, Kings School, Newington College. She’s taught at refugee camps in the Middle East, volunteered with AUSAID in The Solomon Islands, travelled to complete residencies in the U.S, and now works as a journalist at Women’s Agenda. She’s won several poetry and writing awards, and her first book of poetry was released in 2018. A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing is her first novel.

A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing

Growing up is always hard, but especially when so many think you’re a washed-up has-been at twenty-two.

Jena Lin plays the violin. She was once a child prodigy and now uses sex to fill the void left by fame. She’s struggling a little. Her professional life comprises rehearsals, concerts, auditions and relentless practice; her personal life is spent managing the demands of her strict family and creative friends, and hooking up. And then she meets Mark – much older and worldly-wise – who consumes her. But at what cost to her dreams?

When Jena is awarded an internship with the New York Philharmonic, she thinks the life she has dreamed of is about to begin. But when Trump is elected, New York changes irrevocably and Jena along with it. Is the dream over? As Jena’s life takes on echoes of Frances Ha, her favourite film, crucial truths are gradually revealed to her.

A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing explores female desire and the consequences of wanting too much and never getting it. It is about the awkwardness and pain of being human in an increasingly dislocated world – and how, in spite of all this, we still try to become the person we want to be. This is a dazzling and original debut from a young writer with a fierce, intelligent and audacious voice.

Published by Allen & Unwin
Released July 2020

My Thoughts:

This was an extremely personal and in-depth session, of the likes where you wish there was a transcript you could repost. I found Jessie’s honesty about herself and how this translates into her work so engaging to listen to. The conversation dug into several themes with immense depth.

Jessie says she is very driven by anger. She was careful to point out that this doesn’t mean she isn’t open to discussion about the things that anger her; in fact, this drive compels her to seek the opposite: open, frank, constructive discussion. She attributes this anger to coming from a place where she is driven by a need to change the world. Specifically, this is about female agency. She feels, with certainty, that she will always write from the perspective of an Asian woman because she wants to universalise the voice of Asian women. In this, she wholly acknowledges that her character, Jena, is informed by many of her own past experiences.

Jessie says that one of her main reasons for writing the novel was to attempt to expunge the shame of reaching for predominantly white spaces throughout her own life. Specifically, but not exclusively, this relates to the shared experiences between Jessie and her character, Jena, as orchestral violinists. She links the continual reaching for these white spaces to migrant guilt. This guilt, that is carried through the generations, stems from the daily exposure to family history, particularly the difficult history, the struggles, the losses, the enduring pain. This intergenerational guilt then leads to a feeling of never being enough, a need to constantly reach beyond as a means of honouring ancestors and all that they went through, so that subsequent generations could live a better life.

A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing is about loneliness, that broad universal experience that transcends everything. Jessie feels that loneliness, for millennials, can be attributed to their ‘mandatory’ online existences. She believes that when the percentage of online engagement is greater than face to face interactions, some essence of being human becomes lost. Loneliness can lead to people compromising their own safety. It’s here, at this point, where her character is.

The discussion explored, in great detail, issues of race and dating, specific to Asian women, and the way in which racial preferences can lead to sexual and domestic violence. There was so much said here of worth, and yet, it’s impossible to summarise. This was an excellent session and I feel I have a wealth of context now in terms of reading A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing and appreciating it all the more.


14 thoughts on “#MWFDIGITAL: Jessie Tu – A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing

  1. This is one I’ve wanted to read since reading an article about her and her book a while ago. I look forward to seeing what you think of it.

    Liked by 1 person

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  3. “When the percentage of online engagement is greater than face to face interactions, some essence of being human becomes lost.”
    I agree with this, but I had to chuckle too, because I’ve been online all day with the festival and the only time I’ve talked to anyone was when I skipped a session and took the dog for a walk!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes. Same. And back when we were in lockdown here in Queensland and I was working from home, my online interactions were for work in addition to my usual blogging and social ones. I must have been very close to morphing into a different being!
      But I think she’s spot on with the link between this and loneliness, particularly within young people. We moderate ourselves automatically because we have experienced life before internet.


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