High school might indeed be the most dangerous place on earth, especially during those four oh-so special years. Yet be it Lindsey Lee Johnson‘s post-9/11 NoCal children or John Hughes‘ Shermer-based Gen X-ers, the clique names might have changed but the game has not.
For Johnson’s debut novel, the stage is set with a suicide – a result of the newest plague of childhood terrors, cyber-bullying. For the remainder the novel, that death resonates with a number of the high schoolers during their junior year, through either outright haunting or steadfast ignorance, and becomes a bridging sequence, along with the perspective of a newly-arrived teacher. Johnson crafts and brings life to her characters, making them real, fun, and extremely, perhaps even unrealistically, naughty. Her well-written POVs for the principals are fresh and bring along a unique insight of the teenage mind.
However, and perhaps this is just the nature of a high school-set story, big-time cliches abound, lessening the shock The Most Dangerous Place On Earth was supposed to bite you with. The student-teacher affair, the beautiful dreamer, the bad boy, the been there, the done that. Johnson is attentive enough to mix in some of the unexpected, but some of those surprises are also head scratchers, like one character’s decision to runaway to a poor-man’s Hollywood. And it all culminates, of course, at an end-of-year party.
Teens will be teens and, unfortunately, many of the teens and their actions do feel as if they are filtered through the eyes of an adult. Regardless, The Most Dangerous Place On Earth is a fast, enjoyable read, but definitely, and perhaps even hopefully, fictitious.