Intention was one thing; it was the smallest decisions that made any difference.
The Most Dangerous Place On Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson is a poignant and solidly written examination of the private lives of a group of entitled, unaware teenagers and eager teachers at a wealthy, suburban high school. It begins with a group of seemingly perfect middle school kids as they begin to set the ranks within their group- who is in and who is out. A note and the bullying of the boy that wrote it highlights the quantity of and effect of cyber-bullying that many kids endure.
From then on, Tristan spent his lunch periods outside, walking the edge of the schoolyard where asphalt crumbled into marshland. He kept his head bowed, and when he came back inside, his ankles were purpled with mud. Nobody bullied him at school. Nobody minded him at all. And every afternoon, Cally and Abigail watched from Abigail’s bedroom as the Facebook posts continued, flashing onto the computer screen at an inexorable pace, gleeful, hateful, now from people they didn’t even know. Sometimes Tristan wrote back, defending himself angrily or desperately, but each comment he posted only renewed the energy of the attacks.
Johnson writes with finesse as she charts the tearing down of a person in such a vulnerable stage of life. These opening scenes provide a back-drop, and possibly a cause, for what occurs throughout the rest of these teenager’s adolescence.
Turning to his left, he saw the red-orange spires of the Golden Gate Bridge, like masts of an enormous ship, like skyscrapers of an alien nation, like ladders to the sky. His heart beat frantically in his ears. Yet for the first time in a long time, he felt like he could breathe.
Bouncing between perspectives we learn more about those involved in this initial encounter and how their lives progressed. We learn, also, just how vulnerable each one of them is in their own right. Personal accounts flesh out the depth of each character while the contrasting viewpoint from one earnest, young teacher proves the degree to which these teenage characters will go to hide their undesirable emotions and characteristics.
And she’d realized there was something worse than being ignored; there was being a target.
Each narrative blossoms with emotional depth and unexpected weakness. A raw examination of the truth behind the lives of teenagers today. Though admittedly the focus is on upper middle class, white narratives, the problems faced are real. Johnson appears to put much of her personal story onto the page and her work shines as a result. The Most Dangerous Place On Earth is a young adult crossover that deserves a special place on your shelf.
There was only the decision to get up. There was only standing and brushing herself off, only turning and hiking back to her friends whose hoots and laughter carried through the trees, to her friends who were flawed but, yes, living; there was only digging through her bag for the last remnants of high school, throwing them into the fire. As the flames ate the papers to curling black, she knew there was only this, and whatever moment would come after, only Calista Broderick going on and trying, like everyone, to live in this beautiful world.
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A review copy of this title was provided by Random House via Netgalley.