One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus (YA)

One of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide.

Pay close attention and you might solve this.

On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.

Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.

Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.

Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.

Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.

And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?

Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

This is Karen McManus’ debut YA novel and on the surface it looks like one which would skirt close to highschool stereotypes and tired tropes, but of course that’s the point here in a way.
In what is both a clear nod to The Breakfast Club and the resurgence in interest for John Hughes-influenced stories like Spider-man: Homecoming and The Edge of Seventeen, we meet our five (soon to be four) main characters in detention in the first few pages. They’re all accompanied by the stereotypes they’ve either gravitated towards or been labelled with unfairly. The stereotypes work well for a start as the story is told from the perspective of four characters, which would be difficult if they were more similar.
From here you might imagine that the plot revolves around what happens to Simon and the investigation into it. While that is a major part of this book, it serves other purposes too: as a device to keep these four characters together loosely even though they didn’t enter that room as friends or even acquaintances for the most part.
On the other hand, the stereotypes that are presented in the blurb are exactly what Karen McManus sets out to tackle. I know that for example even reading the quick description of each person in the room, there is an immediate assumption as to who the blame for Simon’s death could be apportioned to. This is an important point throughout the book, as each of these characters finds themselves straying away from their stereotypes and becoming known as more complex individuals.
Without going into spoiler territory, the blurb mentions Simon planning to post ‘juicy reveals’ about each of the other four in the room, as part of his in-school gossip app, which is rarely wrong in its claims. It’s these reveals that are the catalyst for each of the characters as they deal with the fallout from telling family and friends secrets that have been burdening them.
The resulting narrative has some twists and turns but Karen McManus is clearly focused on trying to create an arc for each of the four main characters. This is successful to a point, with the reader inevitably investing more in one or two characters over the others and thereby finding their perspectives more appealing. I particularly enjoyed Addy’s arc, which started out as very highschool relationship based and actually became more about her family. I also liked Bronwyn’s story. She is that seemingly straight-laced character, but with the amount of pressure on her to continue her family’s Yale legacy, she is the type of person who hasn’t really figured out who she is and what she really wants. She is a strong and determined character and really drives the bulk of the plot along. Her interactions with Nate were great to read too and went in unusual directions at times.
One of Us is Lying also deals with such a huge scenario becoming news in the modern era. Karen McManus is quick to involve all manner of technology and social media in the mix and it creates a real claustrophobic environment for the main characters. From Simon’s gossip app About That, to TV cameras showing up at the school, to burner phones and even some Reddit threads, it’s all in there.
One of Us is Lying has become one of the buzz books of the summer, mainly based on its hook, but it’s well worth sticking around to see how these characters develop right up to the end. And of course to find out who did it!
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