The most dangerous place on earth A novel

Lindsey Lee Johnson

Book - 2017

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New York : Random House [2017]
First edition
Physical Description
272 pages ; 25 cm
Main Author
Lindsey Lee Johnson (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

Set in wealthy Marin County, California, Johnson's debut novel takes a look at the dark side of the suburbs. Molly, a young, wide-eyed teacher, takes over a high-school English class in the middle of the year. She wants to build rapport with her privileged students but never manages to connect. And how could she? These kids go way back—they remember the middle-school incident that led to Tristan Bloch's suicide and left them all broken in one way or another. Calista, the object of Tristan's affection, spends most of her time stoned. Her friend Abigail finds herself in a dangerous relationship with a teacher. Damon, one of Tristan's bullies, ends up in jail, while Nick becomes the town's main drug dealer. It's all a bit much—Johnson never gives the reader time to connect with any of the characters (there's hardly a sympathetic one to be found), and piling one soap-opera situation on top of another without any breathing room is a bit wearying. Still, Johnson shows flashes of good storytelling, and this may appeal to readers who like issue-driven fiction. Copyright 2016 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

The most dangerous place on Earth? High school, and the students here include flaky outsider Callista; sexy star pitcher Ryan; Emma, a disciplined dancer who turns wild on the weekends; and Nick, the secretly shaky cock-of-the-walk party boy. Bought in a major preempt and sold to seven territories so far. [Page 62]. (c) Copyright 2016 Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

A wealthy group of Mill Valley, CA, eighth graders causes the death of a fellow student when they engage in a relentlessly vicious bullying campaign. Morally anesthetized by privilege, peer pressure, drugs, alcohol, hook-up sex, and social media, the kids carry their behavior into high school after a collective, if short-lived (for most), period of regret. New high school English teacher Molly Nicoll, just a few years older than her students, gradually sees the erosion of her idealistic desire to fire them up with her love of literature. Her colleagues' cynicism, her own casual fling with a teacher who is breaking the law with one of her students, and her astonishment at the paths the kids take as they work their way toward graduation—from cheating on the SATs to get into the best schools to mansion-trashing to driving while impaired—all leave her reeling. VERDICT Johnson's polished debut novel puts a human face to the details of today's daily headlines of teen life. The characters' wildly risky behaviors are somewhat offset by their ability to excel academically, athletically, and artistically, if not emotionally. This bleak, potent picture will scare the pants off readers. [See Prepub Alert, 7/11/16.]—Beth Andersen, formerly with Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI. Copyright 2016 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Welcome to Mill Valley, "endowed with not only green mountains and gold hillsides, but also redwood forests, canyon waterfalls," just over the bridge from San Francisco in affluent Marin County. It's hardly the most dangerous place to grow up, but in Johnson's excellent debut, her sharp storytelling conveys an authentic sense of the perils of adolescence observed through a group of teenagers complicit in a terrible event back when they were all in middle school: the suicide of a classmate beset by cyberbullying after sending a love note. The group, now high school juniors, is seen through the eyes of Molly Niccol, a young new English teacher from outside Fresno, a "nowhere place between beige strip mall and brown farmland." Molly is anxious to connect with her students; she's not so far removed from her own teen years, when she felt the same "claustrophobic rage that she could not explain to anyone... there was no clear reason why she should be in any particular moment so furious, so bored. " Molly struggles to make sense of the kids in her class and the rumors about them she hears in the teachers' lounge, like ambitious Abigail's affair with a teacher, and the disappearance of Damon Flintov, one of the original middle school tormentors. Johnson allows these dramas to unfold through various shifting perspectives, including the texts and Facebook posts that run current to teenage life. She keeps the action brisk and deepens readers' investment, culminating in high school party that goes wrong. Readers may find themselves so swept up in this enthralling novel that they finish it in a single sitting. Agent: Susan Golomb, Susan Golomb Agency. (Jan.) [Page ]. Copyright 2016 PWxyz LLC

Review by School Library Journal Reviews

In every class, there is one kid who seems to attract bullies. At Mill Valley Middle School, that kid is eighth grader Tristan Bloch. Day after day, he eats lunch in the guidance counselor's office, wearing the same yellow sweatpants. Fellow classmate Callie absentmindedly accepts an origami bird from Tristan, one of the dozens that he obsessively folds each day. But, to Callie's shock, Tristan responds a few days later by sending her an eloquent love letter. Callie shares the letter with her BFF, Abigail, who in turn shows it to popular jock Ryan. On Facebook, Ryan and some of his buddies start deriding Tristan, with Abigail and other classmates piling on. Just before the end of eighth grade, Tristan kills himself. Readers catch up with these same kids for their junior and senior years of high school. The memory of Tristan seems to have faded, but his death has clearly left its mark. The rest of the book is told from the third-person perspectives of various students and teachers, revealing their suppressed grief and guilt. Each new protagonist offers such a unique point of view that the title reads like connected short stories. Despite the gritty, realistic theme, there is plenty of sly wit, such as when junior David Chu struggles with the strategies for SAT success. ("Pronouns: Mr. Ellison does not like He. He does not like You.") Debut novelist Johnson creates full-bodied characters who are impulsive, irrational, and never beyond redemption. She submerges readers in a complex tale told with beautiful prose and raw emotion, focusing on a danger that adolescents know too well—the hubris of youth. VERDICT For those who appreciate dark, intense reads.—Diane Colson, City College, Gainesville, FL Copyright 2017 School Library Journal.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Arriving as a replacement teacher in a privileged Bay Area school, Molly becomes intrigued with the hidden lives and challenging ambitions of her students, who are struggling with a tragedy from their middle-school years. A first novel.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Arriving as a replacement teacher in a privileged Bay Area school, Molly becomes intrigued with the hidden lives and challenging ambitions of her students, who are struggling with a tragedy from their middle-school years.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

An unforgettable cast of characters is unleashed into a realm known for its cruelty—the American high school—in this captivating debut novel.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 rumor, every feeling, is potentially postable, shareable, viral. Lindsey Lee Johnson’s kaleidoscopic narrative exposes at every turn the real human beings beneath the high school stereotypes. 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 screwup. 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.Praise for The Most Dangerous Place on Earth“Alarming, compelling . . . Here’s high school life in all its madness.”—The New York Times   “Unputdownable.”—Elle  “Impossibly funny and achingly sad . . . [Lindsey Lee] Johnson cracks open adolescent angst with adult sensibility and sensitivity.”—San Francisco Chronicle   “[A] piercing debut . . . Johnson proves herself a master of the coming-of-age story.”—The Boston Globe   “Entrancing . . . Johnson’s novel possesses a propulsive quality. . . . Hard to put down.”—Chicago Tribune   “Readers may find themselves so swept up in this enthralling novel that they finish it in a single sitting.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)