Review: The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson

Title: The Most Dangerous Place on Earth
Author: Lindsey Lee Johnson
Pages: 288
Genre: YA, Fiction
Source: Free ARC from Random House

Rating: A

Note: As stated under the Source (above), I received this book for free from Random House via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review (and trust me, honest is always what you’ll get).

Summary: In 8th grade, a group of kids from a wealthy, relatively homogenous community in the Bay Area bully a vulnerable kid at their school for confessing his feelings towards one of the girls in the group. Tragedy occurs and some of the students are haunted by their part in it, while others fail to understand the impact of their actions. In each chapter, we get to know one of the kids involved in a much deeper way, gaining background information about their upbringing, their personality, their inner struggles, and we gain a better understanding of where they were coming from, and sometimes, where they are going.

Review: At the end of the first chapter, I was angry. We hear about bullying, particularly cyberbullying, on the news entirely too often, and I’ve been guilty of wondering why these kids don’t get punished more severely. Never have I given much thought to how things got that far. How could these kids, and their parents, not understand what they were doing? That it was wrong and harmful? How is it not criminal? Why don’t the schools do more? Why aren’t these parents doing a better job raising their kids? And I highly doubt I’m the only person who has made these assumptions when reading about the latest bullied child who took their life to escape it. It’s easy to lay blame. It’s hard to try and understand, to attempt to empathize with the perceived guilty party. And I think this book goes a long way in shedding light on some of the things that might lead to a kid participating in this kind of behavior. Not excuses, but explanations. Things are rarely as straightforward as they seem.

As I mentioned before, each chapter focuses on one of the kids who participated in bullying this particular child. At the end of each, I felt I grasped more about where that child was coming from, why they would have participated in something so heinous, and how they are feeling about their actions in the aftermath, even several years later. Some of the kids just didn’t get it. I don’t know if that’s personality or upbringing or a combination of the two. Some kids were very sensitive themselves, vulnerable to social pressures in a way other kids weren’t. Some kids had home lives that were far from perfect, leaving them with psychological scars and impulses they didn’t understand. And, we tend to forget these were children. Their brains are still developing. Impulsivity is still an issue, social pressures are a heavier weight for them, and long-term consequences are not something they readily anticipate. None of this excuses their behavior, but we can’t fix something we don’t understand the mechanics of.

This is one of those books that made me question my perceptions, that helped me see things from the other side – many other sides actually, and I feel enlightened. There is more than one side to every story, and if understanding is truly our goal, we have to consider them all.

Excellent book.

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