What else could it be, of course? In small North American towns, where nothing ever really happens, high school is a universe on it’s own. Young athletes are worshiped like their world-renowned counterparts. All-American-Girls rise to their peaks. And sometimes, when reality hits a little too hard, lives are ended. Life can be cruel in a place infused with hormones and children trying to play adult. Lindsey Lee Johnson novel about high school has a very apt name: The Most Dangerous Place on Earth.
Drama, cyber bullying, drugs and alcohol, affairs between students and teachers, all of them a reality in life and in The Most Dangerous Place. It is a novel that follows a group of students and a couple of their teachers through several years of high school. They are young, most of them are rich and privileged, and they all think that death or pain could never happen. As the years move on, the kids change, as do their teachers – their stories relatable and poignant.
As a past teenager who had attended high school (hard to believe, I know!) I felt like I had fallen back in time reading this novel. Sure, I was never one of those students and my high school was almost totally different, but there were some aspects that I found so relatable. The anger, the drama, the feeling of being invincible, of wanting to do everything possible, of wanting to grow up. I was in love with my English teacher (though, of course, never acted on it), just as I was in love with literature and dead authors. My life wasn’t as privileged or – thankfully – as tragic, but I think everyone will be able to find a bit of themselves and people they know in this novel.
What I enjoyed most about Johnson’s writing and characters is how well they stand up to the real deal. The teenagers don’t sound like caricatures, too young, too old, or too stupid. They were intriguing, flawed, but not in a way that made them feel helpless. What I did not enjoy were some of the masturbatory musings over literary icons and books. That part felt too much like high school. In a sense that it sounded like reflections of person who just read and discussed The Great Gatsby, and so feels like the more learned person in the world. I feel that way because high school was (sadly) the only time I read Fitzgerald, Joyce, Hesse, Kafka, etc, and it made me feel so insightful and superior. Ugh, teenagers.
The Most Dangerous Place on Earth is well written, hard hitting, and does not shy away from the tough stuff.
I received a copy of The Most Dangerous Place on Earth from Random House via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.