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FMN Book Club | The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson

How is it the middle of August and over 6 weeks since our last book club session? This summer has been amazing and in such, I’ve been a little behind on sharing reads with you guys so let’s get back on track…

So, how did you guys get on with Lindsey Lee Johnson’s The Most Dangerous Place on Earth? Apologies if those of you in the U.K and Europe struggled to get hold of a copy; I bought mine in the U.S and didn’t realise it was still hard to get your hands on across the pond…. If you didn’t manage to get hold of one this time, maybe this can be on your radar for another time. Just be warned, this post contains spoilers… 

I had kind of mixed feelings about this book. I’m a huge fan of anything that centres around the good old ‘coming-of-age’ trope. To be quite honest, anything centred around a high school and I’m in…. I don’t know what it is, but stories about adolescence are eternally intoxicating to me. That bridge between childhood and adulthood and the mistakes that are made getting there feel both familiar and alien in the most perfectly balanced way. It seems as though I’m not the only fully-fledged adult still drawn to tales of teenage angst as literature and entertainment are brimming with them. In the same month as reading this, I watched Before I Fall and 13 Reasons Why on Netflix, so the high school angst drama is as alive and kicking as ever.

I actually think the onslaught of teen dramas at the moment (and my guilty consumption of them), all generally based around the notions of ‘everybody has their stuff going on underneath’ and ‘online actions have real consequences’ kind of dented my enjoyment of this book. Maybe partly because the series and movies currently being spewed out by Netflix actually called to mind Lindsey Lee Johnson’s novel at times and vice versa, so much so, I felt like I was encountering the same stories under different character names at times. Don’t get me wrong, I was gripped by this novel at times and fully enthralled by the tragic course of the teens lives. But a lot of it felt tried and tested…. The love rat jock hiding his sexuality. The teacher-student relationship. The kids going off the rails or bending underneath the strain of parental pressure. I ate it all up and in the moment, I could feel everything. Lee Johnson definitely has a knack for taking you back to the anxiety of youth. From the shame Emma Fleed feels on crutches wondering where her so-called friends are after her devastating injury, and the frustrations and idealisms of Molly Nicholl, the young, new teacher mostly consumed with a desire to be liked and confided in my her students, to Ryan, the aforementioned sports star, whose mother desperately tries to stay on top of him but fails to really know him. It moved me for sure, and made me extremely thankful not to be a teenager in today’s online world, but I felt like I was left slightly dissatisfied and wanting more.

I found Molly Nicholl’s story line the most interesting in a way. Her journey from fresh-faced, idealistic new teacher to a disillusioned product of the system who unwittingly fails Calista in her moment of need, opened up a really interesting discussion for me on the vicious cycle of education systems worldwide. Maybe it’s a sign of getting old, but I kind of felt like some of the parents deserved their own narrative. Parents were very much the absent or over-bearing enemies in this book and it felt like it would have been more interesting to understand a little more of what was going on behind closed doors with them too, rather than just sectioning them off and filing them under ‘bad parents’. Of course, this is the teen’s narratives and when do the majority of teens ever spare a thought for what mum and dad have going on personally let’s be honest. But I felt like it called to mind Less Than Zero a little too much at times, and personally, I’m not a fan of Brett Easton Ellis’s 1980 debut novel thanks to its vacuous tone.

I agree wholly with the New York Times review which noted that rather than high school being ‘the most dangerous place on earth’, it is in fact the internet or more specifically Facebook, that’s deserving of that title. I was definitely quaking in my boots at times wondering what it’s like to both be and raise a teenager in today’s online, social world. I myself came of age with only a handful of chatrooms, messenger services, and spaces like Hi5 and Bebo available to play with and if memory serves me right, my teens had their fair amount of supposed awkwardness, pressures and embarrassments as it was.

If like me, you’re drawn to high school based narratives, this is definitely worth a read but it just goes to prove nothing really ever changes according to the narratives we’re presented with. High school has always been and remains a narcissistic space where people feel the need to fit into moulds and subsequently feel alone. It was true in The Breakfast Club in 1985 and remains true as ever in 2017, albeit with far more disastrous consequences than mere detention.

As ever, please do let me know what you made of this book if you read it. Comments and discussions below are massively welcome and appreciated! Given what I just spoke about, I think the next book fills in the gaps that this book might have left… Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng shares a couple of similar themes as Lindsey Lee Johnson’s novel, but presented in a wholly different way. It recalls The Lovely Bones as well as touching on themes of otherness, feminism, marriage, family dynamics and race in America. I LOVED this book and can say that hand on heart. I really can’t recommend this next read enough so please go read and check in here for the review in a few weeks. As we are a little behind with book club, the next meeting is going to be at the beginning of September, a little sooner than usual, and then we’ll carry on with the monthly basis…

Thanks as ever for reading and joining in. And if you haven’t yet, maybe this is the month to get on board with the FMN Book Club? I think Celeste Ng’s book is a great one to start with and get a discussion going with… I read it in a day on holiday recently, so it’s a very easy one to devour while also pausing to reflect. Make sure to tag me and use the hashtag #FMNBookClub on social media so I can see who’s reading this month…

See you soon xxx

Buy next month’s book here….