...[an] alarming, compelling and coolly funny debut ... Ms. Johnson’s characters are unpredictable, contradictory and many things at once, which make them particularly satisfying ... For its compassion, its ability to see the humanity inside even the most apparently hopeless person and the shimmering intelligence of its prose, The Most Dangerous Place on Earth reminded me a bit of Rick Moody’s great 1994 novel, The Ice Storm. You end up sympathizing with and aching for even characters who appear to be irredeemable.
Johnson, who taught writing to teenagers at what she describes as a 'private learning center,' convincingly captures the varied inner lives of these children. She describes them as alien to adults and young kids, and, at least for some of these wealthy teens, lacking ethics and morals. She also portrays with precision the cringe-worthy dance between adults and teenagers, who yearn for support from their elders while rejecting offers of help as hopelessly lame ... Johnson beautifully lays out the complex factors that lead Cally and her friends to brutally bully a fellow student. The cruel episode has a tragic momentum that is hard to read, and also hard to put down. Johnson's novel possesses a propulsive quality, an achievement in a book of, after the initial traumatic event, short character sketches. Yet it moves forward relentlessly, towing the reader with it. I read this book in one, long sitting ... Of course, 'rich kids have problems too' is not necessarily a deep insight. Johnson's fresh take is the subtle political angle she weaves throughout the novel.
...this surprisingly adult-themed novel stays rooted in reality — and hyper-reality. That's what makes it so terrifying ... In the hands of a lesser writer, these kids would read as stereotypes, but Johnson delves deep into their individual psychologies, revealing them to be as unique as fingerprints ... Molly's slow unraveling of their past makes for a fascinating, often comic, and ultimately heartbreaking read ... In its most insightful moments, The Most Dangerous Place on Earth also reminds us just how moving a teen drama can be.