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The Dissident by Nell Freudenberger
The Dissident of this novel's title is Yuan Zhao, a Chinese performance artist and political dissident who has accepted an artist's residency at an all-girl prep school in Los Angeles. The Travers family hosts him, letting him stay in the pool house, but they're too busy with their own problems to pay him much attention. The mother, Cece, is an art enthusiast and counselor at the prep school, but emotionally she's on an uneven keel with her distant husband, near-romantic relationship with her brother-in-law, and worry over her son's arrest. Her daughter, Olivia, is a popular girl at the school, and she's glad the other girls ignore their inscrutable Chinese art teacher. Yuan Zhao is not interesting or exotic enough for the girls, but he narrates his own past in China, complete with his own secrets and drama. Nell Freudenberger's debut novel (following her award-winning short story collection, Lucky Girls) has received mostly positive reviews with USA Today saying, "But what makes this first novel so impressive, and so richly entertaining and moving, is the range and complexity of its individual characters. Freudenberger draws them with a level of sophistication and compassion that can't be attributed merely to her extensive travel or native precociousness."