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
“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)
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.
Long winded with a lot of useless and unnecessary 4-letter words…
This story could have been whittled down to almost half of its length. I kept on thinking through out this book that it was "much to do about nothing," and I had to skim over many of the pages. I kept waiting for the author to get on with the story. Ended up being a waste of time for me. Definitely not for anyone under 18 to read even though story centered around a high school. Story left me wondering why I was wasting my time hearing about a bunch of spoiled, entitled brats, that we are already consumed with on TV and other entertainment outlets.