In an idyllic community of wealthy California families, new teacher Molly Nicoll becomes intrigued by the hidden lives of her privileged students. Unknown to Molly, a middle school tragedy in which they were all complicit continues to reverberate for her kids: Nick, the brilliant scam artist; Emma, the gifted dancer and party girl; Dave, the B student who strives to meet his parents expectations; Calista, the hippie outcast who hides her intelligence for reasons of her own. Theirs is a world in which every action may become public postable, shareable, indelible.
With the rare talent that transforms teenage dramas into compelling and urgent fiction, Lindsey Lee Johnson makes vivid a modern adolescence lived in the gleam of the virtual, but rich with the sorrow, passion, and beauty of life in any time, and at any age.
The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson
Publication Date: January 10, 2017 by Random House
She wanted him to feel familiar, she wanted him to be someone she wanted and knew. But he was only someone.
This novel starts off strong – the reader is introduced to a group of middle school students and as is probably common for that age group, there is not much to like about their behavior or actions. These kids come from wealthy (and for some, very absent) families, but with that wealth comes privilege and it’s immediately clear that that sense of entitlement is going to spur on some of the events in the book.
That was how he knew. That nothing could touch him. And if nothing could touch him, then nothing he did mattered.
There is one student who carries an aura of innocence among peers who are already engaging in that awkward transition into high school (girls who dress provocatively, but still spend time eating candy and gossiping in each other’s bedrooms). Tristan is sweet, but awkward and his one fault seems to be his kind and trusting nature. The reader quickly realizes that Tristan will be the focal point in the tragic events that occur in the beginning of the novel, but that doesn’t stop it from causing serious heartbreak in the reader before the storyline quickly shifts into the students’ junior year of high school.
Initially, I felt drawn to Molly (the students’ new English teacher). Johnson does a great job of sharing what it feels like to be a high school teacher and how difficult it can be to engage with so many different personalities in one classroom. I’m probably biased since I used to teach English, but I couldn’t help but applaud Johnson for the way she initially introduces us to Molly’s world.
Then everything quickly shifted and I realized that many of the adults in the novel were just as royally flawed as the students they taught. Although I’m not one to shy away from story lines that include some seriously immoral behavior or relationships (hello, Lolita I’m looking at you), it was Molly’s behavior that left me cringing the most – and I’m well aware that my biases most likely play a part in that.
There’s a lot to be said about how The Most Dangerous Place on Earth addresses the idea of loneliness and the extremes people (both teenagers AND adults) will go to to satisfy that need for a sense of belonging or importance (and how social media plays a part in those connections or lack thereof), but there also came a point in the novel where some of the students started to feel more like caricatures than actual teenagers – the dancer, the hippie, the jock, the bad boy, etc. etc.
Despite my gripes with some of the characterization, I still found myself completely immersed in the story and a novel that deals with people behaving horribly who may or may not change is something I can get on board with. Thank you NetGalley and Random House for allowing me the opportunity to read this book before its publication date! I’m looking forward to seeing what else Lindsey Lee Johnson writes in the future.