The Most Dangerous Place on Earth

Lindsey Lee Johnson

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth
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The Most Dangerous Place on Earth

Lindsey Lee Johnson

The wealthy enclaves north of San Francisco are not the paradise they appear to be, and nobody knows this better than the students of a local high school. Despite being raised with all the opportunities money can buy, these vulnerable kids are navigating a treacherous adolescence in which every action, every rumour, every feeling, is potentially postable, shareable, viral.

Abigail Cress is ticking off the boxes toward the Ivy League when she makes the first impulsive decision of her life: entering into an inappropriate relationship with a teacher. Dave Chu, who knows himself at heart to be a typical B student, takes desperate measures to live up to his parents' crushing expectations. Emma Fleed, a gifted dancer, balances rigorous rehearsals with wild weekends. Damon Flintov returns from a stint at rehab looking to prove that he’s not an irredeemable screw-up. And Calista Broderick, once part of the popular crowd, chooses, for reasons of her own, to become a hippie outcast.

Into this complicated web, an idealistic young English teacher arrives from a poorer, scruffier part of California. Molly Nicoll strives to connect with her students - without understanding the middle school tragedy that played out online and has continued to reverberate in different ways for all of them.

Written with the rare talent capable of turning teenage drama into urgent, adult fiction, The Most Dangerous Place on Earth makes vivid a modern adolescence lived in the gleam of the virtual, but rich with sorrow, passion, and humanity.

Review

With her electric debut novel, Lindsey Lee Johnson has skilfully teased out the everyday dramas that exist in ‘The Most Dangerous Place on Earth’: high school. Set in one of the world’s wealthiest communities – Mill Valley, California – Johnson’s novel opens with an epigraph from Milton’s Paradise Lost: ‘The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.’ Here, in a neighbourhood rich in natural, cultural and material splendour, Johnson’s novel revolves around a class of students who we meet in the eighth grade. In the opening chapter, one student is bullied to the point of tragedy.

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth then follows these students over the course of four years, tracing the effect of this tragedy on their adolescent lives, with the point of view alternating chapter by chapter. It’s a remarkably convincing constellation of voices – which Johnson handles with nuance and empathy, her prose clean and often coolly funny. For the majority of the novel, the students are 17, and each vignette explores the everyday dramas of their complex interior lives: exam pressure, inappropriate student-teacher relationships, controlling parents, absent parents, drugs, sex, house parties, and, through it all, technology. It comes alive with each account of teenage worlds played out on the internet – Johnson’s writing is strongest when it takes on these forms. Texts, clickbait ‘news’ articles and social media streams spark on the page, and elicit a sense of unease that makes it impossible to put this novel down.

Interspersed between chapters, we return to the students’ young English teacher, Molly Nicoll, who desperately wants to connect with her class. This adult perspective, and the cast of parents and teachers littered throughout, enables Johnson to skilfully demonstrate the fraught power dynamic between and among adults and teenagers. A smart, tightly-paced read perfect for fans of recent releases like Marlena and Girls on Fire.


Stella Charls is the marketing and events coordinator for Readings.

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