Novel illustrates Marin high school student dilemmas

Novel illustrates Marin high school student dilemmas

Jenna Osier

Think of someone you know really well, someone that you see every day. Then stare at them for a few minutes, without looking away. Look at their face, their eyes, nose, things that you recognize and features that you would be able to pick out in a crowd.

Now, as you continue to look you will see a freckle that you haven’t seen before right below their nose, a faint scar above their left eyebrow, a wrinkle on their forehead. As you continue to look you will start to question how well you actually know them. Their features will start to become unfamiliar and your memories together, pointless.

This is the reality that Lindsey Lee Johnson creates in her new novel, The Most Dangerous Place on Earth. She makes you question how well you know the people around you. Beneath all the makeup, expensive clothes, fake smiles, test scores, and GPAs, often hide a personality that never manages to surface. This personality, hidden from parents, teachers, and peers, drowns in the overwhelming stress and stereotypes that are given out like candy in “the most dangerous place on earth,” high school.

Set in the “sunny” hills of Mill Valley, just north of the busy San Francisco streets, the novel follows the lives of seven kids throughout their high school careers. Starting in 8th grade the reader meets two best friends. Inseparable, Cally (Calista) Broderick and Abigail Cress, are the popular girls who wear all the right brands and have the personalities to get any guy.

Everything is perfect in the bustling halls of Valley Middle School until one day when a love note intended for Cally gets passed around via social media. This one post is enough to leave the seven students scarred with a memory they will never forget.

When I put down Johnson’s new novel I have to say that I was very pleased. Not only was it fast paced and easy to read, but it shed a new light on high school stereotypes. A different take on the classic high school novel, one that is more in tune with the social media world we live in today.

Each chapter introduces a new character’s life, peeling back their stereotype to reveal the persona they don’t display in the classroom. The reader experiences the consequences of the decisions made by the characters when they are not sitting down in their desks.

I would definitely recommend Johnson’s book to all high schools students. The story encourages acceptance and makes you think more about the lives your peers and friends are living. I also think it would be beneficial for parents and educators to read because it may help them connect more with their students/children.

Johnson manages to make the characters seem so realistic and the conversations that they have with one another like ones you would have with your own friends and family.

This conversation is between one of the male characters and his dad, demonstrating the stress of college and getting good grades.

“You must score over 2100 if you expect Berkeley to consider you.”

“‘I am aware of this,’ Dave said.”

The characters Johnson creates are very stereotypical but they remind you of people you know in your own high school hallways. Her characters are described as people who could be your friends.

Within each chapter Johnson introduces a new student who unveils their true identity and life outside the classroom.

Abigail Cress, the smart girl who makes a bad decision with a school staff member. David Chu, the boy who tries to live up to his parent’s expectations, but knows he can never please them. Emma Fleed, the talented dancer who spends more time in the studio then sitting at her desk. Damon Flintov, the regular juvie attendee and failing student. Ryan Harbinger, the baseball star and center of attention. Elizabeth Avarine, the walking model who keeps to herself. And lastly, Cally Broderick, the once popular girl who chose to become a hippy outcast.

In two short years the seven students will be heading off to college, moving away from their million dollar homes, wealthy parents, and privileged lives, but for now they are stuck in the treacherous path of adolescence where every conversation, every event, every thought can be potentially shared, posted, and all out for the world to see.

Johnson vividly creates the stressful, alarming, twisted, and instantly shareable world of high school. She touches on the social issues, bullying, hyper exposure to social media, drugs, alcohol, partying, popularity, and the constant pressure to succeed.

Her characters walk the busy hallways pretending to be someone they aren’t, afraid to show the personality that lays behind the fake smile.