The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson could have easily been renamed Privilege Meet Tragedy, but it wouldn’t have been as flashy. I received an electronic uncorrected copy of this debut novel for an honest review from NetGalley. I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads. At times I thought it could be a bit slow and verbose, but the book gives you exactly what the description says it’s going to give you – a look into the lives of wealthy teenagers who experienced a tragedy earlier in life.
I’ve mentioned how I didn’t care for Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng on this blog before; however the comparisons of this novel to it are not unfounded. Both novels exercise the use of multiple points of view in order to tell a story where only certain people hold certain information. However, unlike Ng, I thought that Johnson did a better job creating differing voices for her characters and placing useful breaks within the story to switch narration. This makes the novel easy to understand and allows the reader to gain several perspectives.
Also unlike Ng, there is no mystery in this book. After the first part of the book, the reader knows what tragedy happened while the kids were in middle school, and all the circumstances that lead up to that event. At first I enjoyed the directness of the plot layout but as the kids moved to high school, there was not a cohesive story to follow. I don’t always think it’s necessary to have a firm storyline in novels. The Interestings, A Little Life, and Water for Elephants (more on this later) are all books I enjoy that don’t have clear plot driven stories. However the blurb for this book leads the reader to believe they will get a plot driven storyline from the book.
In an idyllic community of wealthy California families, new teacher Molly Nicoll becomes intrigued by the hidden lives of her privileged students. Unknown to Molly, a middle school tragedy in which they were all complicit continues to reverberate for her kids: Nick, the brilliant scam artist; Emma, the gifted dancer and party girl; Dave, the B student who strives to meet his parents expectations; Calista, the hippie outcast who hides her intelligence for reasons of her own. Theirs is a world in which every action may become public postable, shareable, indelible. With the rare talent that transforms teenage dramas into compelling and urgent fiction, Lindsey Lee Johnson makes vivid a modern adolescence lived in the gleam of the virtual, but rich with the sorrow, passion, and beauty of life in any time, and at any age.
This blurb was interesting, which caused me to request the copy in the first place. I think my true issue with this novel is that Johnson tries to incorporate so many different characters, that there’s not adequate time to develop each of the individual perspectives. This distances the reader from the characters, and I came out of reading the novel feeling indifferent to each student’s plight.
Even though I just pointed out a lot of things that didn’t excite me about this book, I’m going to tell you now why I think you should still pick it up. Since I work with college students, I wasn’t really surprised by some of the actual events that happened in the book. However, I think a lot of people will be surprised with the challenges these kids face, especially when those teenage problems intersect with access to large sums of money. The stakes become higher and sometimes the consequences are more devastating. I think that this was the point that Johnson was trying to explore in her novel. For her debut, that was a tall task, and ultimately I think that she was successful in proving that point.
Until Next Time World…