Published January 10, 2017
Random House Publishing Group
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The book begins in the eighth grade at Valley Middle School. A beautiful school in Mill Valley which was recently declared the Fourth Best Small Town in America.
Thirteen year old Cally Broderick is impatient and restless for her life to begin. Her teachers keep telling her that she just needs to apply herself, but she’s more interested in her best friend, Abigail and Ryan Harbinger, the boy she has a crush on. When she opens her locker one day and a note falls out, she assumes it’s from Ryan. But it’s not, it’s a very long note from Tristan Bloch. Tristan is one of those kids that stands out for all the wrong reasons. Cally did NOT want a love letter from Tristan Bloch. She’s embarrassed by it. Tristan bares his heart to her. It’s all just too much for Cally and she doesn’t know what to do.
I was so anxious as I read this. I just felt like it wasn’t going to end well.
Teenagers. Crushes are the norm. However, when you have a teenage girl who cares very much about how others perceive her and add a boy who many consider strange and who has a crush on her? Add some mean girls and boys AND social media……deadly combination.
The book is broken into parts. Eighth Grade, Junior Year and Senior Year. We follow the same group of students through these years and we see how things that happened in the Eighth grade follow them, shape them and affect all of their lives in many different ways. These are all privileged students.
Nick is popular. He doesn’t want anyone to know how smart he really is. He’s also a criminal.
Cally/Calista is completely changed by things that happened in the eighth grade.
Dave is smart, but he has to work hard at it. He is constantly striving to meet his parents high standards. He feels that nothing about him has changed since grade 8 other than his shoe and shirt size. I really felt like Dave was more compassionate than the others.
Emma is a dancer who is self-medicating to deal with the stress of eating, sleeping and breathing dance 24/7
Ryan – The pretty boy. The bad boy who gets away with everything. I had such a hard time with this character. He seemed to have zero redeeming qualities. I felt bad in a way as this is a teenage boy but one that I wanted to throttle with my bare hands.
Elizabeth is beautiful, quiet….and lonely. So beautiful that the girls are jealous and the boys too intimidated to approach her.
Abigail is a mean girl who is looking for love in all the wrong places.
Damon is another “bad boy” but he doesn’t get away with things like Ryan does.
Molly Nicoll is the new English teacher In the groups junior year at Valley High. She’s replacing a teacher who just ups and leaves in the middle of the school year ( I can’t imagine why). She’s happy to be teaching at Valley High. Twenty-three and finally on her own. She cares about her students and truly wants to help them achieve any goals they may have.
Thirty-two year old Doug Ellison teaches Government in the class next to Miss Nicholl. He’s very involved with his students and has many roles at Valley High including helping with SAT Prep and Yearbook.
I can see that a lot of what happens in this book taking place in High Schools……bullying, sex, drugs, alcohol, peer pressure, cheating, suicide, social media. However, sometimes it just felt a bit over the top. Or maybe not. It may be that it felt like it was ALL happening at this one school. Almost like the worst of the worst. As I read I was asking myself……is it really this bad? I was hard pressed to find redeeming qualities of many of the students.
Things have changed so much. Nowadays, kids use their phones to answer questions. Wikipedia, Yahoo Answers and Google their main source of information. But I’m not sure I should be so judgemental. Because in actuality when there is something I don’t know, the first thing I want to do is pick up my phone and ask “Siri”.
I asked my daughter what she thought the title “The Most Dangerous Place on Earth” meant. She guessed jail first but her second guess was high school. Social media is often at the center of so many of our conversations. Most of these apps are terrible for not only impulsive teenagers but many adults as well.
All in all I thought that the author did a good job in showing what is happening in our schools with our teens. Though somewhat exaggerated, with many unlikable characters, it does show how much more aware we really need to be. Especially in this age of technology and social media.
I think this is a very good debut novel. Interesting and thought- provoking. I will happily read more from Lindsey Lee Johnson.
Thank you NetGalley, Random House, and Lindsey Lee Johnson for providing me with an advanced readers copy of this book.