Tag Archives: California

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages: 288

Published:  January 10, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

This is a horrific story of a group of seemingly heartless children following them from 8th grade through senior year.  They live in Mill Valley, a wealthy city within Marin County.  They are entitled, spoiled, and largely ignored by their parents.  Through the use of social media they are also extremely dangerous.  Each chapter is told from the perspective of a student or teacher.  Even the teachers in this book are awful.  They are trying to relive their high school years by relating and engaging with the children inappropriately.  This is a book that disgusted and enraged me, but also scared me to death (as a mother).  This books warns of the horrors of social media, how it betrays friendships, how people can be heartless and ruthless on social media with no regard to feelings and outcomes.  It warns how children and adults can make very big mistakes online, how a small mistake in real life can be amplified by social media to social and emotional ruin.

This group of children in particular is savage.  Social standing is everything.  Relationships lack depth.  Anyone can stab you in the back if it might earn you higher social standing.    With all that these kids were going through and experiencing, they each seemed to be islands, lacking close friendships or supportive families.  They did not share personal details of their lives with their friends, they did not confide in their friends.  Their friends were there solely for the purpose of social standing.  The children appear lost, unhappy, and in some cases were trying to become someone else rather than discover who they really were.

At it’s core this book is about bullying and I felt it was a cry that we as a society should be doing more to prevent it, to address it once it happens, and acknowledge that it will likely happen again.  There are so many students that participated in the bullying and the bulk of it was done online where people can hide behind screens and become more heartless.  How do we as a society, as communities, as school address the online lives of our children?  How much freedom and independence do we give them versus close monitoring?  What kind of limits should be imposed?

Towards the end of the novel, Molly is made to shut down her Facebook account by the school administration because of her over-involvement online with her students.  “At least for a while, she’d reside in the land of the actual, where she might discover who her real friends were.  Where she might discover herself.”

As hard as this was to read, I think there is an excellent message to this book.  It asks a lot of questions and hopefully will get people thinking.  The character development was excellent and I enjoyed reading and getting inside the heads of various different students and teachers.  I thought it was an interesting twist that Ryan gets taken advantage of through social media at the end, however, it did seem a little far-fetched and out of character for him.  My first inclination was to give this 3 stars,  however I’m bumping it up to 4 because it brings up a lot of great discussion points.  This would make for an excellent book club read. 

Royal Blue Awareness Ribbon

 

 

 

Mill Valley, CA

located in Marin County

 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Name all the victims of bullying within this book.  In what ways were they bullied?
  2. Molly Nicoll had been a victim of bullying in high school.  She thinks back that it was better not to be noticed than to be a target, which she became after a terrible haircut.  How does this relate to other victims of bullying within this book?
  3. Discuss Doug Ellison and Abigail Cress’s relationship.  Who has more to lose if people found out?  Do you think Doug Ellison has had previous relationships with his students?
  4. Why does Calista relate to the line in “Great Gatsby” where Jordan Baker says to Nick, “I hate careless people.”  Why is it that Calista hates careless people?  Who does she consider careless?
  5. Calista tells Molly “Nothing ever goes back.”  Does it seem like the rest of the school pretends that it does?
  6. Compare and contrast the social hierarchy among the students versus the teachers.
  7. Beth tells Molly “It’s only geography dear.”  What is the meaning behind this statement?
  8. Why do you think Molly yearns to understand and become close to her students?  Do you feel it is appropriate?  Where is the line?
  9. Calista contemplates suicide.  Why?  Why is she so unhappy?
  10. How is Ryan ultimately taken advantage of towards the end of the book?  Is this bullying?
  11. There is a recurring theme of people wanting to be different, of trying to reinvent themselves.  Why do you think this is?
  12. Why do you think so much of the bullying happens online rather than face to face?
  13. What do you think could be done differently to prevent bullying?
  14. The students involved online were given a brief suspension for the bullying that led to Tristan’s suicide.  Do you feel this sentence was adequate?  What should the consequences be?
  15. What kind of monitoring should parents have over online correspondence of their children?
  16. Did this book seem realistic to you?  Why or why not?

Lindsey Lee Johnson’s website

Review by Sarah Nyall in the New York Times

Review by Fellow Blogger Becky Renner

Review by fellow blogger “Mad Book Love”

The Book Reporter’s Review

The Girls by Emma Cline ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

 

26893819

 

 

Pages: 355

Published: June 14, 2016

Format: Audiobook

 

 

 

What an awesome premise for a novel!  Who isn’t intrigued by cult culture and the brutal Manson murders.  This story is told from the point of view of one of “the girls,”  one who does not participate in the murders, but nonetheless becomes drawn in by them and a part of their group.  It is told from the perspective of adulthood in a way, that makes the allure and enchantment of being part of this group understandable for girls lacking close bonds in their life.  But, the perspective of the town and those not drawn in is also interspersed within the novel to remind the reader of the real conditions there, the filth, squalor, and wickedness.

Evie, the narrator was easy prey to fall into the cult.  Her parents had divorced.  She wasn’t feeling particularly close to either one of them and she and her best friend were on the outs.  She had been carelessly dismissed by the boy she had a crush on.  She was lonely and looking for close companionship.  When she saw Suzanne, she was immediately intrigued by her easy free manner.  She began feeling the allure of belong to a group that took care of each other, that laughed together and teased each other.  A group that had tremendous freedom from the outside world and its rules.

Evie, the fictional narrator of this story is coming of age at a time when her home environment is dysfunctional and lonely.  She begins to spend more and more time at the ranch with “the girls” who really were that, girls in their late teen years, mostly runaways with no where else to go.  She participates in the drug culture, the sex, the thievery and deception.  She feels like she is willing to do whatever is asked for the group and puts them above all else.  They do not include her in the murders, kicking her out of the car at the last minute, which begs the question, could she have been capable of committing the heinous murders as well?  Were these girls inherently evil or was it the cult setting and the drug culture?  These questions and mysteries stay with Evie into adulthood, as she wonders what might have been.

Evie’s story is juxtaposed with her modern day life far into adulthood, in which she is housesitting for her friend Dan.  Dan’s son, who has sociopathic tendencies, shows up at the house with his very young, perhaps 14 year old girlfriend.  This young girl is vulnerable and accepting of circumstances and treatment that she does not deserve from Julian (Dan’s son) and his friend Zev.  Evie tries to impart some wisdom, however it falls upon deaf ears.  How easy is it for young girls to be swept up along the wrong path, to accept the cruelty of boys and men as they are learning who they are at a point when they are being women and may not have close relationships with family, friends, or mentors to help them through.

The story is thrilling and exciting.  It keeps you on the edge of your seat.  It makes you rethink what it was like to have been one of “the girls.”  It is a very loose interpretation that largely ignores the racist implications of Charles Manson’s mission as well as some very horrific ways in which he treated the girls in his quasi-commune.  However, it is excellently written, fun to read, and brings up some great moral questions.  images-2

charles-manson-195 140807172408-10-manson-murders-restricted-horizontal-gallery05landis-master768-v2

 

 

Charles Manson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the courthouse.  Susan Atkins is on left behind the guard.

 

 

charles-manson-312Some Manson family members at the Spahn Ranch.

 

 

 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  How are young Evie and Sasha alike and dissimilar?  Do you think Evie sees younger self in Sasha?
  2. How has the grown Evie changed from her young self?
  3. Why do you think that Evie is not angry at her father for cheating and leaving her mother?
  4. Why do you think Evie pities her mother?
  5. How would you describe Evie’s friendship with Connie?  With Suzanne?  How do these differ?
  6. How do you feel about Evie’s introduction to sex?
  7. Why do you think that Evie cannot see the Ranch for the broken down trash heap that it is?
  8. What is the allure of this group to Evie and others?  What keeps them there when things start to fall apart?
  9. When the police finally come, why do you think Russell runs and the girls don’t?
  10. Why do you think that Evie never says anything to anyone about her knowledge of the murders over those months when they were searching for the killer/s?
  11. Who is Evie’s bond to?  Why is this important?
  12. Suzanne imparts looks to Evie many times through the course of the novel, which are difficult to interpret.   How do you think Suzanne feels about Evie?  Why do you think Suzanne was hesitant to bring Evie to the ranch initially?  Why do you think Suzanne distances herself from Evie after Evie’s rendezvous with Russell? Why do you think Suzanne pushed Evie from the car prior to the murders?
  13. Evie saw a growing side to Suzanne with time that was full of hatred.  What do you think fueled this hatred?  Do you think that Suzanne was inherently evil or was made evil by her affiliation with Russell and the culture on the ranch?

Outline of the Manson murders with prison times served for all involved

Discussion Guide by LitLovers

New York Times Review of “The Girls”