The Most Dangerous Place on Earth

Lindsey Lee Johnson. Random House, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9727-9
Welcome to Mill Valley, “endowed with not only green mountains and gold hillsides, but also redwood forests, [and] 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.)
Reviewed on: 08/15/2016
Release date: 01/10/2017
Compact Disc - 978-0-451-48398-0
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