Title: The Most Dangerous Place on Earth
Author: Lindsey Lee Johnson
Genre: Adult Literary Fiction
What’s it about? Debut novel (2017) about privileged high schoolers from a wealthy suburb of San Francisco. The story centers around eight high school kids and a new English teacher who tries to connect with them.
It has been three years since the suicide of their eighth grade classmate, Tristan Bloch, and while they have moved on, each is saddled by complex feelings of guilt. Abigail is a super achiever, Ryan a heartthrob baseball player. Emma is driven to dance, Nick is an unscrupulous moneymaker, and Elisabeth is a stunning beauty. Dave must meet his parents’ expectations and Damon has landed in rehab. And the biggest burden of grief falls on Callie, who reinvents and loses herself in a numbing transformation.
While these may sound like typical advantaged and spoiled teenagers, Johnson does a terrific job developing her characters and defining their painful adolescence, showing that money cannot fix feelings, families or relationships. Johnson also points to the superficial and damaging effects of social media and its often destructive role in friendships. She gives the reader a sometimes shocking look into the secret lives of teenagers.
As the friends move through their junior and senior years, a series of dangerous developments threatens to break some and free others, with an imperfect but satisfying finish.
The story is loaded with excellent imagery, one of Johnson’s strongest points, adding that extra layer of quality writing that I love to see.
How did you hear about it? I saw an online book review and wanted to read it. I enjoy reading about high school kids because of all the changes they face in a compressed period of time.
Closing comments: I like books about groups of friends and how their relationships change over time. The Most Dangerous Place on Earth is an excellent story about seeming stereotypes with unique, realistic and modern problems. Johnson also gives her characters the universal teenage challenge of both fitting in and being comfortable in their own skin. It reminds me of the 1985 movie, St. Elmo’s Fire (even though those friends are recent college grads) and one of my favorite books, The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer.
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