One of Us is Lying, by Karen M. McManus
Published: 1 June 2017
⭐️ 4 / 5
Breakfast Club meets Gossip Girl meets Pretty Little Liars. Karen M. McManus’s debut novel is an excellent read and if this is the first book she has published, we really are in for a treat in years to come. This is a young adult thriller told from multiple points of view. A group of teenagers all find themselves in detention and are thrown into a classic ‘who dunnit’ when one of them drops dead in an unpleasant way. Prepare to question everything you’ve ever known about contemporary YA.
This book was so readable. I inhaled it in a single 4 hour sitting. Personally, having read a lot of thrillers/murder mysteries, I had the murderer pegged from the first couple of chapters as all the clues are there if you’re looking hard enough. However, McManus had me questioning everything. This woman knows how to write an excellent mystery. I’ve never found myself so backwards and forwards, I doubted myself so many times whilst reading the twists and turns. I still received the ‘big reveal’ moment as towards the end I was ready to throw out my entire theory before I finally had it confirmed, even if I did roll my eyes at it a little. Honestly the storytelling and plot weaving was masterful and impressive, albeit a little trope-heavy at times. Although this book is very clearly a young adult novel, it is definitely something that adults can enjoy. My 80-year-old grandmother read this and really enjoyed it too.
The plot is largely comprised by the daily lives of the teenagers involved in the case. It was very refreshing that the whole ‘who dunnit’ investigation wasn’t the sole focus, rather an undercurrent that carried the rest of the plot aloft. The focus was the kids. This allowed for lots of character development which I really enjoyed. The pacing of the narrative was executed well and the change of narrative point of view was perfectly spaced for me. I usually have a massive problem with changing POV (it all started with Twilight and then Divergent ruined it further…). It really toyed with me and increased the tension. McManus is very good at building suspense and tension, the last couple of chapters, especially, really had me going. I fell into that kind of reading trance where I could barely hear what was going on around me.
There are several very adult themes that are tackled in this book so I would certainly recommend caution with younger teens reading this, however I could have done with a book like this at the age of around 13 – 14 or so to at least discuss this sort of content. The story could certainly serve as a loosely educational tool. Mental illness including depression is a central theme and one of the characters has to deal with being outed as gay against their will. I personally believe both of these themes were handled well, however I’ve seen some mixed reviews including suggestions that portrayals of these storylines were ignorant and damaging. I suppose we all experience things differently so if you’re worried about these ideas, I’d suggest looking at some other reviews.
Each of the 4 point-of-view characters is the embodiment of a high school/secondary school stereotype. Bronwyn is the straight-A geek, Nate is the ‘bad boy’, Addy is the bimbo Prom Queen, and Cooper is the jock. Conforming to further stereotypes, the dead boy Simon is the awkward misfit who is held in mild contempt by most of his classmates. McManus challenges each of these initial stereotypes and gives the characters nuanced characterisations, and at the same time really captures the struggles of growing up and navigating everything I hated about being a teenager at school. Bronwyn, I loved because I could see my own damaged teenage self through her. Her character grew so much despite all the crap she was going through. Nate was a very heavy bad boy stereotype however I felt like this was unpacked incredibly well and he actually ended up being one of my favourite characters of the book. The turn-around was huge. Each of the characters’ secrets, held against them by the dead character Simon, were slowly revealed throughout the book in a Pretty Little Liars/Gossip Girl style move. I could have done with some of the secrets emerging slightly earlier on in the book, mostly because I’m impatient, however this allowed for the red herrings that I enjoyed for all the problems they caused.
Aside from the main group of characters, I found the smaller players in the plot to be very fleshed out and the whole cast and school were very tangible. I was completely sucked into all of their lives and could really imagine this sort of drama in my own secondary school (and trust me, there was plenty of drama going around there…). Even Simon, the victim in this novel, is a fully realised character which I appreciate for a character who died in the first half a dozen pages.
I am really looking forward to reading the sequel in the New Year and kicking off 2020 with an excellent book!
This is easily one of the best YA murder mystery thrillers I’ve read, ever, let alone just in 2019. I’d highly recommend this for a quick, entertaining read if you want a book you’re motivated to read in a single sitting. If you’ve read it, let my know your thoughts in the comments below!
Five students go to detention. Only four leave alive. Yale hopeful Bronwyn has never publicly broken a rule. Sports star Cooper only knows what he’s doing in the baseball diamond. Bad body Nate is one misstep away from a life of crime. Prom queen Addy is holding together the cracks in her perfect life. And outsider Simon, creator of the notorious gossip app at Bayview High, won’t ever talk about any of them again. He dies 24 hours before he could post their deepest secrets online. Investigators conclude it’s no accident. All of them are suspects. Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you’ll go to protect them.from Waterstones – I am not affiliated with this, or any other, bookshop.