Born in 1974, Vancouver-raised Leanne Lieberman completed her first novel for teenage readers, Gravity (Orca 2008) as master's thesis at the University of Windsor.

Her second novel for young readers is The Most Dangerous Thing (Orca Book Publishers, 2017, reviewed here by Carol Anne Shaw. 9781459811843


Sixteen-year-old Sydney lives in and out of the Fog -- a word she uses to describe the smothering depression and anxiety that so often takes hold of her. But she’s trying; she really is, and most of the time she can keep things under control. But Sydney’s life is growing more and more complicated, and lately, the Fog has changed from paltry to pea soup.

Why can’t things just be easy? And why is the entire world so preoccupied with sex? Take Abby, for example, Sydney’s outgoing sister; she’s staging her version of The Vagina Monologues for a school drama project. Why does she have to be so “out there”? It’s so embarrassing!

And then there’s Zeyda, Sydney’s cranky and misunderstood grandfather. She’s got to keep her eye on him. After all, Bubbie, her grandmother, recently passed away. Who can blame her Zeyda for being so crotchety? But while he’s old and lonely, he regains his spark when Syd comes to visit -- particularly when he shares tips about the stock market with her.

But the biggest problem is Paul, a boy at school who Sydney has known for a long time. He’s really nice, makes Syd’s heart cartwheel, and seems to want more than just a friendship. But Sydney doesn’t know the first thing about dating; she’s never even kissed a boy! Still, she really likes Paul, and the sudden rush of feelings she begins to experience throws her completely off balance.

One minute she finds herself growing closer to Paul, and the next, she is retreating. Wanting a boy in this new way is pretty scary, not to mention totally confusing!

I enjoyed the special relationship Syd shares with her grandfather, Zeyda, as well as her strong connection to her immediate family. I also liked the attention given to certain Jewish traditions and customs -- I learned a little more about Passover, not to mention a few Yiddish words.

Lieberman’s portrayal of a teenager’s sexual awakening is done realistically and with great sensitivity. Her forthright way of tackling the issue of mental illness is spot on.

While Sydney does learn coping strategies, and is able eventually to utilize the resources available to her, Lieberman makes it clear that depression and anxiety are simply a part of who Sydney is. There is no access to a magic eraser or to a wonder pill, but with courage and support, we learn we can all accept our individual challenges and even rise above them. Our struggles are part, but not all, of who we are.

This book felt very real to me -- accurate in its emotional content. Its voice is poignant and believable. It reminded me of how perplexing it felt to fall in love for the first time.

I must also high-five Leanne Lieberman for the wonderful way she addresses the issue of female desire; it’s done in a way that feels both honest and non-judgmental.

Teens will relate to this story on many different levels. Those grappling with anxiety and self-esteem issues will most certainly find a kindred spirit in Sydney.

Ultimately, The Most Dangerous Thing is the story of a sensitive girl who successfully overcomes some pretty big life challenges, and in doing so, finds herself well on her way to discovering (and celebrating) who she really is.

[Carol Anne Shaw is the author of the “Hannah” books, all from Ronsdale Press: Hannah & the Spindle Whorl (2010), Hannah & the Salish Sea (2013), and Hannah & the Wild Woods (2015).]


[BCBW 2017] "Kidlit" "Ormsby"