[Book Review] The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson

This review also appears on Amazon and Goodreads. Thank you to Netgalley and the publishers for the advanced reading copy!

This is a YA coming-of-age novel centered around a group of children from wealthy families in a single California school district through middle and high school. When one of their peers jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge after they bully him online, they are affected deeply in ways that are not immediately apparent to each other or themselves. This is the story of how they cope, grow, and change in the tricky and difficult world of high school.

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There were some things this story did well. There was a vast difference in the outward appearance of each character versus the inward dialogue represented in the story. This is particularly apparent when the same event is told from multiple POV characters. The multiple viewpoints added nuance to an otherwise tired narrative. It highlighted that teens often act exactly the opposite of how they feel. The plot contains dramatic and complex issues, but deals with them in a very stereotypical way.

There were lots of things I hoped to find, but didn’t. Many of the characters were poor little rich kid stereotypes done a slightly different way: the angry-abused child, the constantly high flower child, the overachiever, the party girl dancer (although at least she didn’t have an eating disorder or think she was pregnant), the jock who just wants more out of his life than people give him credit for, the smart girl who falls in love with her teacher, and the skinny kid who isn’t as rich as everyone else but manages to deal drugs and throw parties and be cool anyway. The exception was an Asian character who tried incredibly hard but didn’t have overachiever grades that were expected by his parents (and who ultimately gets the girl!). Aside from this boy, there were no other non-white characters in the entire book. There’s no significant discussion of sexual discovery, unless you count rampant meaningless hetero-promiscuity.

Two of the teachers also have POV sections, highlighting that high school can even be difficult for the adults. It all just seems very haphazard. The narrative eventually circles back to the boy who jumped and the girl he was bullied for liking, Calista. She is the last POV character. Perhaps, she saved an otherwise disorganized and confused story by bringing the events surrounding Tristan’s death back into focus and reflecting on the meaning it had for her moving forward.

Overall, it was an okay read. There were a lot of complex narrative choices that had the potential to make this story work, but it was not quite there. I would have appreciated more diversity, even within the realm of the very rich in a California town. I would definitely have appreciated more frank discussion of mental illness and sexual exploration. The chosen plot lines would have lent themselves perfectly to this kind of discussion. Nothing about this story stands out, or sets it apart from other YA novels of this type.

What would I recommend you read instead?

My recommendations in this genre include Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell or The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.

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