I hated this book and I’m going to ruin it all for you in about three lines so if you don’t want spoilers, then stop reading right before the sign.
The Most Dangerous Place on Earth is supposed to be a look at high school in a wealthy town that the author once lived. She’s also tutored at in a “private learning center” in a town very similar to this one. The author, Lindsey Lee Johnson, claims that she is a “fierce defender of teenagers” in her Twitter bio, but I find this practically deafening after reading her book. I was constantly disappointed in this book, not just once, but over and over again. You can see it from my Goodreads status updates. In fact, the only reason I kept reading was so that I could say “I finished the whole book” and you wouldn’t question that maybe I only hated it because I didn’t read the end.
This is one of those books that makes me think the entire publishing world (at least the big five) is one big conspiracy of “who ya know” and that gets you a good review. Chicago Tribune RAVED about this book so it’s clear to me that their critic knows not a single teacher or a single high school student. Even Anthony Doerr blurbed for this book and I find that goods at least compelling, now I’m starting to question my author compass. NY Times was the worst, with the audacity to call this novel “funny.” What an adjective to choose. You know, just the flawed lives of teenagers who may or may not survive those years is funny. Definitely, NY Times. GET A THESAURUS.
Let me tell you just a few reasons why I hated this novel.
Every teacher mentioned is a stereotype. You have the male teacher that’s sleeping with a student. You have the young teacher who wants to be “friends” with her students and uses them to add filler to her own life. You have the bitchy group of teachers who sit around at lunch, what we called at my recent HS, “ducks” because they complain about the whole program, every student, and anyone who chooses to be compassionate at all about a child. They exist, I’m sure each of these people exist, but to put them down on a page and add another layer of “teachers aren’t professionals” or “you can’t do? Then TEACH” to the world, seriously infuriates me.
Did you know I’ve never had rows in my classroom? In fact, I hardly ever taught a novel until I taught AP Literature and College Board expected it. Yea, I had super comfortable furniture and a bike desk, but my students were never allowed to lounge on it, spooning, while I read them pages of a book. Last semester, I brought the Global Brands Manager of Red Hat into my classroom to teach my students about branding and then they built their own growth portfolios. We taught them about global citizenship. They’ve skyped with Ambassadors and Heads of State about Human Rights. Had their own UN Council. Get the fuck out of here, Lindsey Lee Johnson, you clearly haven’t been in a classroom since you were a high-schooler and to write a book where every teacher is a just another figurine of these stereotypes makes me sick with disgust.
I don’t know any teachers that add their students on Facebook.
There’s this cool thing now now called Remind where we can text through an app with “office hours” and no phone numbers exchanged. That’s what REAL high school teachers use now.
TEACHERS DON’T SLEEP WITH STUDENTS ON THE REGULAR. Contrary to popular belief, most of us don’t go into teaching to relive our high school experience.
Thanks for making us, teachers, ONCE AGAIN, the butt of a never-ending joke. This is why parents don’t believe we’re killing it in the classroom. This is why when I talk to them about “project based learning” and what’s ACTUALLY happening in education, they don’t understand. Because they read books like yours where we’re all still teaching like it’s 1982. Like Beyonce has said plenty of times, WE’VE UPGRADED.
Guys, I’m going to apologize now for the excessive amount of all caps yelling in this review. I am just so, so peeved and angrily texting my teacher-frands just ain’t enough.
I get that teenagers are flawed, and they make (totally awesome) choices that adults want to both laugh and cry at. I’ve always worked in high-poverty schools and I’ve been, not only a teacher, but their counselor, their nurse, their hug in the middle of a day, the person that greets them with their first warmness of the morning, their coach, their advisor, their mentor. I am a FIERCE DEFENDER OF TEENAGERS.
How can you be a fierce defender of teenagers when you literally wrote each one as a stock stereotype and each of their lives as a playbook for “reckless teens.” Not only that, but you’ve broken them down into perfect little cliques like a 90s RomCom. That’s not defending them. Treating them like real human beings is defending them. Working with them through the day-in/day-out of their very real lives is defending them. The only character that I really got could be a real human being was Damon in his section at rehab. I was melting with that kid, I was understanding his come-up. I got it at that point, and I got everything he did before and everything he did after. I’ve taught him in real life. He threw a textbook at me once, in fact. But that’s it.
Here we have the following: the juvenile delinquent, the smart boy who’s just on the wrong path, the drug dealer, the hyper smart Asian (I MEAN COME ON), the boy who’s closeted gay (or just magically walks into the porn industry at the end of the book), the smart girl who’s parents aren’t home enough so she sleeps with a teacher, the hippie kids, the bullies, the kids that are “different.” This review here calls what you did with these kids “archetypes.” If you fiercely defend teens, why are yours stuck in little less-than-cute boxes?
Where are the black kids?
You’re from this place. So, I get that. I get that you wanted to write about it. Were you thinking, “Hey, it’s been twenty years since I stepped into a high school. It’s probably exactly the same as it was. Let me write that down.” Because … that’s how it feels.
I owed this book to Penguin Random House. They gave me an ARC and when I read on Goodreads that each chapter is narrated by a different character in a high school, I honestly thought that sounded really cool. Not quite inventive, but cool, particularly when I realized that it all surrounded and stemmed from a tragedy that they’d all experienced. I love books, typically, that switch between characters and give us a fuller perspective on one story.
While I understand, this usually leads to an atypical plot, in this book it was kind of a let down. I liked that it bookended on Calista and her story and experiences, but I was disappointed by the actions some of the characters decided to take, particularly because they were so dated. The first chapter blew me away. I was mesmerized by Tristan’s bike ride to the Golden Gate Bridge and the way he described each small detail.
After that, pure bullshit. Every page.
These characters mean nothing to each other, and mean nothing to the reader. This is the first book that I actually, actively don’t recommend. I can’t back a book that pigeonholes teenagers or makes them tiny typecasts of themselves. I don’t know why it’s getting such great reviews, other than the big five in the publishing world are dying. Maybe it’s time to focus on Indie Reads.
My bestie, and best reader-frand, Nat, asked if this one was like “If Perks was on ecstasy,” and I can’t even give it that novelty. Sucked. Hard. (No pun intended).