The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Mill Valley is the perfect little town, and Molly Nicoll is excited to start a teaching career in English at the local high school. However, when she starts up mid-year, she has no idea about a tragedy that occurred in her students' eighth grade year. To Miss Nicoll, these kids are in deep need of understanding and guidance, even if they are sometimes a bit rude and unfocused. There's Abby, the perfect student prepping for her Ivy League future, but also hiding a secret; Nick, an intelligent kid with a trick for every situation; Cally, a prominent player in the early tragedy, who now floats through school with the other hippie kids; Emma, a talented dancer who loves to let go and party on the weekends; Damon, who just wants to have fun; Ryan, a popular kid who hangs with Nick and Damon; Elizabeth, the most beautiful girl in school - and the one without any friends; and Dave, who is struggling with the weight of his parents' expectations. These kids have known each other for years, and their lives are shared in every way possible - in their small town, at school, and across all forms of social media.
I'd heard a lot of advance praise for this novel, and had put it on hold at my local library ages ago. I was excited to finally get a chance to read it, but upon finishing it, was left feeling conflicted. This is going to be yet another one of those lauded novels that everyone loves where I feel a bit "eh." Don't get me wrong: this is a well-written book--even a beautiful one at times--and it often tells a compelling and sometimes frightening story of kids growing up in suburbia. The novel starts with the gang in eighth grade and goes through their senior year. It's told in snippets from various students, as well as Miss Nicoll.
The problem, for me, is that it read more like a series of interconnected short stories than a novel. We get brief insights into a variety of students, but no real depth or insight into anyone. You're able to infer a lot about each and how their home life and past has affected them, but every student's piece leaves you wanting more, feeling unfinished. Even Miss Nicoll's role sort of trails off. It's a shame, because most of the teens are so clearly written that you can visualize them so well - they each stand out on the page, and each one could have commanded the book on their own. Instead, they come and go, and at times, the plot veers off into strange side stories that seem unnecessary or unbelievable.
This is one of those novels that terrifies me to have my children grow up, because it presents high school as one never-ending saga of bullying and partying. The rich, disaffected teens are abandoned by their similarly rich and disaffected parents and no one really seems to care about anything. Still, you find yourself getting into one kids' story, only to have the point of view turn and you're thrust into another student's life instead. By the end, I found myself frustrated, wanting to know more, and wishing for more finality to, well, everything. 3.5 stars
View all my reviews