The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson

Lindsey Lee Johnson’s The Most Dangerous Place on Earth is everything you want a summer read to be. It’s fast-paced, full of drama, and you can’t put the book down. The novel weaves the story of a group of wealthy high school juniors in a San Franciscan suburb, all tied in some way to a tragic event that occurred when they were in eighth grade. Fast-forward to junior year, their idealistic new teacher, Molly Nicoll, strives to connect with them. She wants to share her love of A Room of One’s Own and The Great Gatsby. She wants to foster a passion for learning. She wants to understand them and for her students to understand her. Even though Molly hopes for this understanding, she does not have the same privilege that we readers have. We get to hear from each student. Every chapter is told from the perspective of a different student—from Ryan the school jock to Abigail the overachiever—and we get to see the pressure, pain, and guilt they feel. In each situation these conflicts come from a vastly different place.

The six students profiled seem a little like wealthy, suburban stereotypes—a more severe and mean take on Clueless or The Breakfast Club. This is "the most dangerous place on earth" after all. But Johnson does value these characters and is sensitive to their thoughts and feelings. There is the bite of Johnson’s wit, but also humanism. There is the melodrama of high school, but the thoughtfulness to show how much [artificial] pressure there is in this single place.

As compelling as it is, this novel deals with a lot. Perhaps it deals with too much. If one community experienced one of the eight major events that occur in this 300-page novel, that would be enough to mark it forever. From the perils of social media to inappropriate student-teacher relationships to standardized test cheating, each chapter is a little bit of its own afterschool special. But if you forgive this, it is a great read.

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