‘One Of Us Is Lying’ by Karen M. McManus: Book Review

The moment I heard about this book, I knew I had to read it. The review snippet I saw when I first caught sight of  One Of Us Is Lying read “Pretty Little Liars meets The Breakfast Club”, and the comparison instantly sold it to me. As a huge fan of The Breakfast Club and a reluctant and slightly guilty fan of Pretty Little Liars, this sounded like the kind of book I could get behind. It also sounded very different to anything I usually read, as its rare that I’ll pick up a mystery/thriller, even more so one that also spans the contemporary young adult genre.

“Five students walk into detention. Only four leave alive.”

In One Of Us Is Lying, four teenagers – a geek, a jock, a criminal, and a princess – become suspects for the murder of their school’s notorious gossip blogger and outsider, Simon, when he dies during detention. As it turns out, each of these four strangers has a motive for killing Simon, who before his death, had been poised to spill their deepest secrets online. Throughout the course of this book, the four strangers form unlikely alliances to clear their names and solve the mystery, even while the investigation unearths dark truths that threaten to unravel their lives.

Whilst this book doesn’t quite have all the scandal of Pretty Little Liars, and nothing could ever live up to the feel of John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club, it certainly didn’t disappoint. Karen M. McManus does a great job of creating some likable and developed characters and creating an intriguing mystery with the writing to back it up.

“None of them have as much experience as I do keeping a straight face when s***’s falling apart around them. At least, none of the are as good at it as me.”

The characters in this book fit neatly into their stereotypes, but at the same time, much like in The Breakfast Club, we realise as the book progresses that there’s much more to them than their labels alone. Bronwyn is the “brain”: her grades are near-perfect and as far as anyone else is concerned, she’s never stepped a foot out of line. Cooper is the “jock”: his rapid improvement in the baseball diamond has garnered the attention of scouts, and he’s dating the prettiest girl in school. On the surface, “princess” Addy has a perfect life: a boyfriend she loves, and the crown of homecoming princess. Then there’s Nate, the “criminal”, who no-one would be surprised to see breaking yet another rule.

Some of these characters are handled better than others. During the book, it’s revealed that none of these teenagers are quite what they seem, and as a result of their interactions with each other and their involvement in the murder case, they each go through some rapid character development. The character whose development I liked the most when reading this is Addy’s. At first, Addy seems like the classic “air-head”, a fairly passive and bland character who cares about nothing but appearance and social standing. Addy’s character goes through some huge changes during the book, and this was really gratifying.

To me, the other characters don’t feel like they go through quite as drastic changes, and even by the end of the book, I didn’t feel like I had a particularly great grasp on Cooper’s personality. For me, he is probably the weakest of the line-up, though Nate’s character also feels very cliched.

“Let’s face it: everyone at Bayview High hated Simon. I was just the only one with enough guts to do something about it.”

The mystery itself is handled very well, with suspense maintained throughout most of the book. Unlike something like The Girl on the Train, this mystery has a relatively light feel to it. It doesn’t have the kind of suspense that makes your heart race and your stomach turn, but it does have the kind that has you racing to work out who the culprit is. Part of me would have liked to see more tension and danger in this book, since I didn’t really feel much of an adrenaline rush, but at the same time, the lighter tone works for a young adult book that’s as much about the characters and ordinary teenage antics as it is about a murder.

I like how the characters’ secrets are revealed a little at a time, and McManus does a great job at teasing hints of Cooper’s secret in particular, which feels like it has the biggest build-up before the eventual reveal. The first half of this book feels like it’s all about guessing each of the character’s motives, reading between the lines, and working out their secrets. It feels like any one of them could have killed Simon, and I loved this section of the book, because it really brought out my inner Sherlock. The second half felt more about the impact the murder has had on the teenagers’ everyday lives, which I found a little less interesting and scandalous, but was still enjoyable.

I’m happy with the ending, and actually started to piece some ideas together myself shortly before the characters did, so when it happened, the reveal made a lot of sense. While this is satisfying, I feel like more could have been done to make it feel dramatic, since the ending didn’t really surprise or shock me.

The thing about this book is that it’s a mixture of genres. If you’re looking for an intense and chilling mystery, it probably isn’t for you. But, if you’re looking for an easy-to-read and interesting book with contrasting characters, romance, secrets and a murder, then there’s a good chance you’ll like this. Overall, this was a really enjoyable read that I would recommend to fans of contemporary YA who are looking for something with a good plot and a healthy dose of mystery.

“I guess we’re almost friends now, or as friendly as you can get when you’re not one hundred percent sure the other person isn’t framing you for murder.” 

Rating: 4/5

 

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