In this acutely observed and darkly humorous tale of adolescence, a gifted but unhappy 16-year-old Australian girl trades poverty for suburban suffocation when she takes part in an exchange program in the U.S.
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M.J. Hyland is an ex-lawyer and the author of three multi-award-winning novels: How the Light Gets In, Carry Me Down, and This is How. Carry Me Down was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won both the Hawthornden Prize and The Encore Prize.
Hyland is also a lecturer in Creative Writing in The Centre for New Writing at The University of Manchester where she runs fiction workshops, alongside Martin Amis, Colm Tóibín, and Jeanette Winterson. She also runs regular fiction masterclasses in The Guardian Masterclass Programme, and has twice been shortlisted for the BBC Short Story Prize (2011 and 2012). She also publishes in The Guardian's "How to Write" series, and has written nonfiction for The Financial Times, Granta, The New Yorker, and elsewhere. Hyland is co-founder of The Hyland and Byrne Editing Firm (see - editingfirm.com & mjhyland.com)
Sixteen-year-old Australian exchange student Louise (Lou) is ecstatic that she has left behind her rough family, who mock her for using big words, and their tiny flat choked with cigarette smoke. Placed in a wealthy Chicago suburb, in a pristine McMansion with the Harding family, Lou is stunned by the glossy perfection: "There are so many healthy, good-looking teenagers that a few crooked teeth, or short, fat fingers, suddenly take on the proportions of deformities." The Hardings are earnest and warm, but Lou's high-strung insecurity and wary independence begin to widen the cracks in her host family's strained domesticity, particularly when Lou turns increasingly to booze and drugs. Hyland's debut loses momentum as it drifts to its open ending. But Lou's furious, first-person voice is filled with piercing observations that beautifully balance Lou's teenage detachment and aching, intelligence and self-absorption, yearning and recklessness. And like Holden Caulfield, with whom she invites inevitable comparison, Lou is unmerciful toward those satisfied with easy answers: "What kind of a moron thinks there's a rational explanation for human behavior?" Gillian Engberg
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