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How the Light Gets In
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How the Light Gets In

3.42  ·  Rating Details ·  2,963 Ratings  ·  214 Reviews
A powerful debut from a young Australian novelist that features one of the most likeable but contrary figures you are likely to meet in contemporary fiction life of poverty in Sydney. And when she is offered a place as an exchange student at a school in America it seems as if her dreams will be fulfilled. welcoming ... until she starts having to live in the suffocating and ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published June 2nd 2005 by Canongate Books Ltd (first published July 1st 2003)
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May 07, 2009 Oriana rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2009
Picking this book up was a wild stab in the dark – I was thinking to maybe dig up some Salinger but I couldn't find The Catcher in the Rye, so I went to a shelf I usually don't remember to check and scanned the spines with my eyes all like half-closed, and this one just leapt out at me. It's one of the last books I took from the Strand before I got fired, just because of the cool cover and all, and I kind of didn't think I'd ever really read it.

But! Wow, it was really quite good. And it's funny
Jul 29, 2007 Justine rated it it was ok
I didn't hate it.
I didn't love it.
It tried too hard to be Catcher in the Rye. I think she says that is her favorite book 870 times throughout the story and how she relates to... we get it you are the female version.

But I've read worse.
Jul 26, 2007 Lucy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2006
hyland. another excellent shrinky suggestion. this book was also another heartbreaking one. the main character, lou, comes to the us on exchange, but ends up getting in trouble. i couldn't identify so much with the character's behaviour, but i could so identify with her thoughts, especially the longing to have a whole new start in a new place and basically be a new person ("maybe i can learn to be confident. maybe i will change ... if i can do this one thing right - i'll change who i am forever" ...more
Jayne Charles
Sep 11, 2013 Jayne Charles rated it it was ok
This was very readable in terms of the writing style, and the theme was interesting enough – a gifted Australian teenager from a deprived background travels to Chicago to live with a family on some kind of exchange scheme. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected to though – it was a bit like driving down a long, straight road where the scenery doesn’t change. However much you don’t want to, you find yourself drifting off. In the novel, protagonist Lou makes various social faux pas, mostly by thi ...more
Louisa O'donnell
I really didn't like this book! Lou was selfish and really didn't take any notice of what was happening around her.
I get that she came from a shitty place and wanted to start afresh, but the way she approached the situation was dismal.
It's been a few years since I read it but the main thing I recall that really turned me off Lou was towards the end of the book when the US family she was staying with was having a family crisis and while they were rushing out the door to go to the hospital or wh
Jan 11, 2010 Kelly rated it really liked it
When I studied creative writing at uni, my tutor was M.J Hyland. She always struck me as analytical and deep in thought. She would ask questions of people and really, really study them when they gave the answer. This book is written with that same analytical, watchful eye.
The story is sad and lamenting and (being Australian myself) a great depiction of a certain kind of Australian family.
That constant longing for being something else or being better or more confident, more popular, less awkward,
Jun 20, 2013 Chelsea rated it it was ok
Shelves: literature
Disclaimer: I have never read The Catcher in the Rye. I never had to read it for school and I really have no inclination of my own to read it. I did not pick this book up because it was supposed to be like Catcher in the Rye because, obviously, that meant nothing to me. It just sounded mildly interesting while perusing the shelves of the used bookstore the boy and I like to frequent, so I bought it.

I have never encountered such a stupid, frustrating heroine in my entire life. The writing quality
Dec 16, 2012 christa rated it really liked it
I have an announcement. It’s still pretty early, but I’m confident that I have found a writer to add to my list of faves. Old list of faves, meet M.J. Hyland. M.J. Hyland, meet my boring, old, long unchanged list.

I found M.J. in an issue of Granta. She was writing about a diagnosis of MS and I just really liked the way she put sentences together. She gave me no reason to stop reading -- I’ll stop reading at the first boring word or blah blah paragraph or if the page’s aesthetic is off -- and by
I love this sentence: “Sometimes I sit in the mezzanine of the library and look down at the tennis courts and wonder what it would be like to wear a pair of shorts and sit with my knees apart opposite somebody who is also wearing shorts sitting with their knees apart.” Somehow that sentence says everything you need to know about this book. Who hasn’t watched a commercial for, say, breakfast cereal or fabric softener and wanted to jump through the TV screen and live in that world of crisp white s ...more
Elizabeth Michael
Feb 01, 2008 Elizabeth Michael rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of Catcher in the Rye; I'm not sure this isn't better.
This is a really curious book, with an odd and at times off-putting heroine. I've read it several differnt times trying to get a firmer grip on what exactly I think of it as a whole, but each time all I can honestly conclude is that there is something very hypnotic and compelling about it. At every step it was apparent to me how and why she ended up where she did, even though to every once else around her, it would appear that her amazingly high IQ could've afforded her many better opportunities ...more
Jun 08, 2011 Michaela rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Tress Huntley
Jul 28, 2012 Tress Huntley rated it liked it
I thought this was just meh. Quick read, filled some time, shattered no thought processes for me. I finished it a few days ago and have been waiting to see if some latent impression of brilliance would set in (that often happens to me) but it has not.

Maybe I am the only person alive who did not LOVE J. D. Salinger, even as a teen, or maybe I am just at a point in life where I cannot enjoy reading a book from the POV of a teenager who is trapped inside her own self-absorbency. All of the adults
Sep 08, 2008 Bria rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 16, 2012 Kelly rated it it was ok
After having read and loved Hyland's "This is How" last year, I was anxious to read more by her. "How the Light Gets In" is about a high school exchange student from Australia who gets placed with a host family in the Chicago suburbs, and much of the novel focuses on her trying, quite unsuccessfully, to fit in despite coming from a very different family and background. Unfortunately, I couldn't emphasize or sympathize much with the main character -- which made reading the novel difficult for me. ...more
Sep 27, 2007 Hannah rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: advisorybooks
This book was really interesting because it showed me a demomgraphic I had never read about or met before. It revolved around a poor young girl from Austrailia living with her unbearable family. The girl, Lou, enters into a foregin exchange program in which she goes to live with a very wealthy family in California. Lou has an extremely difficult time dealing with a family that enforces rules such as no smoking. The book goes through her troubles and how she is mistreated and judged because of wh ...more
Jan 28, 2014 Jamie rated it it was ok
Lou Connor is no Holden Caulfield. Let's just get that out of the way.

Lou Connor is a conniving teenager that uses her sexuality and intellect to get what she wants. The book uses Lou's exchange student status as a literary vehicle to show the morbundity of American suburbia...yada yada yada.

Frankly, I think two hours of your time watching American Beauty would do a better job.

The writing is good, but not good enough for me to recommend the book.

Feb 15, 2012 Mary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: british-lit
This turned into a non-stop (almost) read. Louisa and her life as an exchange student in a Chicago family ensconced in suburban life is endearing, witty and overall rather a sad portrait of coming to self-awareness and discovering exactly where ones own individuality lies.

Jan 14, 2010 tee rated it liked it
Shelves: i-own
I'm well aware that I should do my reviews as soon as I've finished reading something, otherwise all my delerious passion/hatred/love; whatever emotions were conjured up, dissipate. I liked this book. Three stars looks like a dismal rating because there's those two empty unclicked little stars looking all sad and shit, but I really did like this book. It was one of those easy-to-read, don't-have-to-think books. But still well written. I'm not talking Twilight here, I mean, I had to think a lot w ...more
Feb 01, 2013 Moore rated it liked it
Shelves: 50-in-2013
Oh, thank you Oxfam Books in Kentish Town for this 99p treat on a cold Thursday afternoon. I sat in a coffee shop and read so much of this I forgot what I was meant to be doing next. MJ Hyland slips straight into the voice of Lou, the smart, self-destructive Australian teenager, who somehow manages to scholarship herself out of her trailer trash family straight into the bosom of an ambitious, right-on, American one. Despite her chaotic streak, hers is the voice you trust, the host-family are too ...more
Jun 08, 2009 Meredith rated it liked it
"Holden Caulfield" appears three times on the back cover, but I'm not sure I see the actual connection. I liked parts of this book, and was heartily annoyed by other parts...which I suppose means it was good in its own way. Definitely might recommend it to young adults (in the true sense of the world - 20 yr olds), but only ones who will have the patience to stick with it. I think you might have to be able to identify with the disaffected, emotionally-challenged, highly intelligent main characte ...more
Jun 21, 2011 Nizzy rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club-reads
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 19, 2013 Helen rated it liked it
Torn between 3 or 4 stars. 4 because it held my interest throughout and 3 because it left me feeling depressed. I normally like depressing books but they have to either make me grateful for the life I have or make me shed a few girlie tears reminiscent of watching Bambi. This was too hard hitting for either of those self-satisfied moments. This novel tells the story of Lou, over from Sydney on a student exchange in Chicago where she is plunged into a world she always dreamed of but would never f ...more
Justin Pahl
Apr 20, 2015 Justin Pahl rated it liked it
The first hundred pages of Hyland's debut are captivating. The richness, the uniqueness of the voice carries you forward. Unfortunately, what it carries you into is a narrative that's messy and, at times, redundant. The characters outside of Lou are never quite developed beyond the vivid sketches of her (unreliable) impressions. The book is an impressive exercise in voice, but that voice never takes us anywhere deeper - which is the problem with many first novels, and I'm not surprised that Hyla ...more
Nick Traynor
It was ok. For most of the book, the main character was staying with a family as an exchange student and that made reading kind of onerous because they were all so loathsome. Once the character left the family though, it was more enjoyable. I related a lot to the main character - wanting to be an exchange student, going somewhere else and wanting to become a different person, liking books and being alone - but the book really suffered from not having a clear theme or compelling reason for existe ...more
Sep 10, 2007 Katey rated it it was amazing
highly recommended. Hyland writes like she is still an adolescent. She captures the all the emotions and uncertainty and of a teen in a strange place. If you even remember your teen years you should read this just to have it eloquently portrayed.
Also, there is another layer to her writing. Her characters are always special in some way (just like all adolescents would like to be) but it becomes a hurdle for them.
Superior writing.
Jude Brown
Dec 28, 2013 Jude Brown rated it really liked it
I do love Hyland's writing style and the way she portrays outsiders. You really get under Lou's skin. Really enjoyed this novel - lost it's tightness at one point - but the dynamics between Lou and her surroundings are fascinating and it delivered a just ending. It's my second Hyland book. Read This is How - did enjoy that more. But would recommend and will read more by this author.
May 17, 2014 C rated it liked it
This was very involving but also suffered from what, for me, makes "literary fiction" hard to read - everyone is awful. I think I feel worse after reading it.
Dec 28, 2013 Lisa rated it really liked it
A fairly quich read dealing with the challenges of adolescence, addiction and being an outcast.
Wendy Armstrong
Jun 12, 2013 Wendy Armstrong rated it it was amazing
LOVE. So sorry MJ isn't writing any more, due to ill health I think. I love her style.
Feb 21, 2017 Denise rated it liked it
At times an uncomfortable read, and a book filled with some unlikable people (and total hypocrites)- as seen through the eyes of the main character Lou. She could be somewhat unlikable herself at times, and did herself no favours in her actions and attitudes. Still, I hope that we can all be forgiven for what we did in our teenage years - and forgive ourselves, Lou was at times her own worst enemy. Circumstances did not play out in her favour - and Mandy? Karma will come & f*ck her up I hope ...more
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M.J. Hyland was born in London to Irish parents in 1968 and spent her early childhood in Dublin. She studied English and law at the University of Melbourne, Australia and worked as a lawyer for several years. Her first novel, How the Light Gets In (2003) was short-listed for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Age Book of the Year and also took third place in the Barnes & Noble, Discover G ...more
More about M.J. Hyland...

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“It is always sad when two people have been thinking the same thing at the same moment and neither can find a way to say it out loud.” 2 likes
“I write that I will learn a language and take up the piano. Margaret can teach me. This might help her get back to what she misses and loves to do. I write a promise that I will do extremely well at school, sleep well and write for the school newspaper. I will swim in the mornings before school to get fit and develop legs like Bridget’s. I will fulfil my enormous potential, learn a new word every day, read a novel every week and become the world’s most impressive autodidact and polymath. I will go the university and live in student digs.” 2 likes
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