Authors who inhabit the adolescent world best understand how teens must come to terms with power, and zero in on those who are not afraid to use it.
Why I love it
The mysteries of adolescence are catnip for writers. Generation after generation, we try to figure out why teenagers behave the way they do, why they seem so elusive, and why their worlds are so alluring. Love affairs and friendships form fast and dissolve in disaster, the smallest cruelties can be devastating, and decisions, no matter how trivial, become the most important choices in their lives. Authors who inhabit the adolescent world best understand how teens must come to terms with power, and zero in on those who are not afraid to use it.
The intersection of power, fear, desire, and pain is what makes Lindsey Lee Johnson's debut novel The Most Dangerous Place on Earth so extraordinary. An assortment of students attending a Marin County, California high school '“ where one might expect an idyllic state bordering on pleasant boredom '“ can't quite shake off the effect of a years-ago tragedy where unrequited love, an ill-advised letter, and social media bullying led to suicide.
Each of these students carry the burden of tragedy in unexpected ways, trying on and shedding identities like snakeskin. They include Cally, the original object of desire who transforms from proto-cool to waifish hippie, wanting visibility and invisibility at the same time; Nick, one of the original bullies, who projects a tough persona with his friends but has secret outlets and liaisons; and Emma, a talented dancer so disciplined by day it comes as no surprise that she tests her self-destructive limits by night.
With gorgeous prose and masterful insight, Johnson renders these teens, as well as their young teacher--barely a decade older but blind to how her students’ sophisticated surfaces will compel her to blur professional boundaries--with enormous heart and careful precision. She shows realistically, as too many writers fail, the behavioral consequences of social media use, how it's the way teenagers use technology, not the technology itself, that's the key. And when tragedy strikes again, it is both shocking and inevitable, and shows the truth, and the lie, of what bound these kids together in the first place.