An unforgettable cast of characters is unleashed into a realm known for its cruelty—the American high school—in this captivating debut novel.
The wealthy enclaves north of San Francisco are not the paradise they appear to be, and nobody knows this better than the students of a local high school. Despite being raised with all the opportunities money can buy, these vulnerable kids are navigating a treacherous adolescence in which every action, every rumor, every feeling, is potentially postable, shareable, viral.
Lindsey Lee Johnson’s kaleidoscopic narrative exposes at every turn the real human beings beneath the high school stereotypes. Abigail Cress is ticking off the boxes toward the Ivy League when she makes the first impulsive decision of her life: entering into an inappropriate relationship with a teacher. Dave Chu, who knows himself at heart to be a typical B student, takes desperate measures to live up to his parents’ crushing expectations. Emma Fleed, a gifted dancer, balances rigorous rehearsals with wild weekends. Damon Flintov returns from a stint at rehab looking to prove that he’s not an irredeemable screwup. And Calista Broderick, once part of the popular crowd, chooses, for reasons of her own, to become a hippie outcast.
Into this complicated web, an idealistic young English teacher arrives from a poorer, scruffier part of California. Molly Nicoll strives to connect with her students—without understanding the middle school tragedy that played out online and has continued to reverberate in different ways for all of them.
Written with the rare talent capable of turning teenage drama into urgent, adult fiction, The Most Dangerous Place on Earth makes vivid a modern adolescence lived in the gleam of the virtual, but rich with sorrow, passion, and humanity.
Praise for The Most Dangerous Place on Earth
“The characters in The Most Dangerous Place on Earth, Lindsey Lee Johnson’s alarming, compelling and coolly funny debut novel about the goings-on in and out of a high school in Marin County, Calif., spend most of their time spectacularly failing to see beneath one another’s surfaces. . . . Ms. Johnson’s characters are unpredictable, contradictory and many things at once, which make them particularly satisfying. . . . Here’s high school life in all its madness.”—Sarah Lyall, The New York Times
“In her stunning debut, Johnson . . . explores the fallout among a group of teens—an alpha girl turned stoner, a striving B student, an Ivy League wannabe—who prove, in the end, less entitled than simply empty and searching. An eye-opener.”—People (Book of the Week)
“Hard to put down. Johnson’s novel possesses a propulsive quality. . . . I read this book in one, long sitting. . . . It is a particularly poignant message for today as we, as a nation, grapple with rising inequality and widespread questioning of the viability of the American dream. We ask, is it dead? But Johnson is asking a different question, a good one. She asks whether there is something fundamentally askew with this bedrock American idea. Her book seems to say, yes, there is something rotten amid the uneven splendor. Just look at the kids who should be the happiest on earth.”—Chicago Tribune
“In sharp and assured prose, roving among characters, Lindsey Lee Johnson plumbs the terrifying depths of a half-dozen ultraprivileged California high school kids. . . . It’s a phenomenal first book, a compassionate Less Than Zero for the digital age.”—Anthony Doerr, #1 New York Times bestselling author of All the Light We Cannot See