“THE MOST DANGEROUS PLACE ON EARTH,”
BY LINDSEY LEE JOHNSON
PUBLICATION: RANDOM HOUSE; JANUARY 10, 2017
Synopsis: 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.
I am so incredibly impressed with Lindsay Lee Johnson’s debut novel, “The Most Dangerous Place on Earth.” The novel takes place in a California town not far from San Francisco, following students from middle school until their Senior year. Characters are Cally (or Calista), Abigail, Emma, Ryan, Nick, Tristan, Dave, and several other adolescents with a variety of issues and very little consideration of right and wrong. There is also a brand new teacher, Molly, and her creepy inappropriate colleague, Doug. Not far into the novel, the reader is faced with cringe-worthy humiliation and bullying of a student that ends in tragedy during their middle school years, but then fast forwards to high school where each chapter focuses on different characters and their circumstances. It covers sex, drinking, drugs, gossip, inappropriate relationships, cheating, and so on. There’s very little that isn’t presented in this novel about these teenagers and their lives.
Johnson takes us on a journey of friendships that end, new acquaintances, trying things for the first time, and ultimately, pushing the limits. If I had to choose a word to describe most of the characters in this novel, the word that comes to mind is naive. First of all, the students obviously think they are invincible, indestructible, and able to get away with anything and everything they do. Secondly, the new teacher, Molly seriously skews the lines thinking that these kids want to be her friends, and thus, she tries treating them as such. Thirdly, what few parents are even mentioned in the novel apparently do not believe in supervising their children at all and basically float along in their privileged lives refusing to see what is going on with their children.
After finishing and digesting this novel I also realized that none of these characters honestly knew the first thing about one another. Sure, they knew the crap they deemed worth gossiping about, but they never took the time to get to know one another or themselves. I would like to say that Cally made the most “progress” in surviving adolescence and trying to make sense of it, but in reality, she was high as a kite for several years so I’m not sure I can classify that as “progress.” Stealing a word from creepy Doug the pedophile teacher’s SAT study sessions, no one in this novel – adults included – ever considered the ramifications of their words and/or actions. These spoiled kids did as they pleased and if the end results were negative, they simply shrugged it off and moved on. Some of the teachers were so detached and cynical regarding their students, as to where Molly, the young, newbie teacher, honestly felt that the students cared about her, what she said, and what she did.
Being that I was a teacher for 13 years, I particularly enjoyed Johnson’s portrayal of the teachers and the dynamics between each other and the students. Some of the teachers were so detached and cynical regarding their students, as to where Molly, the young newbie, honestly felt that the students cared about her, what she said, and what she did. Although Molly initially attempted to blend and mesh with her colleagues, she quickly secluded herself and alienated herself by spending all of her time with Doug. After the “incident” with Doug, she continued to bury herself professionally by trying to befriend her students – especially with her pathetic Facebook postings. Her personal flashbacks of being socially awkward, unpopular, etc. turned her teacher-student relationships into one of wanting their acceptance and approval, which is obviously not the most logical way to approach one’s students.
Moving on from the plot and characters, I was truly mesmerized by Lindsay Lee Johnson’s writing. “The Most Dangerous Place on Earth” reads and flows with incredible ease, in spite of the suspense and troubling moments in the novel. Whether it was the thoughts or dialogue of a student, parent, teacher, medical professional, and so on – her writing was spot on with perfect slang, inner-dialogue, reactions, and reflections. Johnson writes with the ability to be whoever she needs to be at that moment, making it difficult to remember that you are reading a work of fiction and that these people are not actually real. Bravo to this extraordinary author and her debut novel. I hope to read more of her incredible work in the future!
Learn more about Lindsay Lee Johnson by visiting her web page.
Purchase “The Most Dangerous Place on Earth” on Amazon.
Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a copy of this ARC in exchange for an honest review.