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

You know my favourite part of The Breakfast Club, the movie this book takes obvious inspiration from? The final line: “We discovered each of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.” I think that’s a timeless line, because it applies to everybody. No one is one single thing. And I might as well just say it right here instead of down the road in this review, but what makes One Of Us Is Lying such a marvellous teen mystery is it doesn’t forget what the 1985 movie was trying to say, that people of various backgrounds and interests and bodies and labels aren’t so different after all.

Using steroids. Being unfaithful. Prior records. Academic dishonesty. Maybe closeted feelings. Even the final one of those and trying to cover them up can be grounds for detention in some schools (snicker) but that’s not what Bronwyn, Addy, Nate and Cooper are there for. They’re all there for bringing phones to class that rung and disrupted their lessons, but they claim they were planted on them. The only other one in detention with them is Simon, who’s hated at Bayview High more than the hall monitor and the football jock who lost the winning run combined. Why? Because he’s the author of a website called About That. And that site is like an online local serial killer; you may not want to look at it, but for fear you or your friends might be a future victim, you can’t look away from what’s going on. It’s an unauthorized Bayview High blog, and what Simon fills with it is secrets he finds from eavesdropping and investigating. In detention he goes for a drink of water from the classroom sink…and he ends up collapsing from it.

An autopsy confirms the water he drank had peanut oil in it, something he’s (he was) severely allergic to. And peanut oil in the school tap he drank from is definitely not coincidental. And what’s even weirder and finger-pointing? Simon had dirt on all of them he was due to post on his site. As Cooper (the athlete) Bronwyn (the basket case), Addy (the princess), and Nate (the criminal) try to navigate being in the spotlight as the prime suspects of killing the brain, who’s way less innocent than the original brain was, they realize not only do they have to face some inner demons that caused them to be where they were, which is blackmailed, but they may have to band together to get ahead of the detectives. Especially when someone seems to be keeping Simon’s blog up.

When the contemporary genre in teen fiction is done right, it’s so easy to turn books into instant favourites. The way to get me on board is to have sympathetic, extreme, relatable characters and a plot that has a dash of horror. The reason I feel it works so well when it does this is, there is sci-fi, fantasy, noir, and loads of books where you escape to an unrecognizable world, but the real world is something you can’t really escape from. I don’t know if any of you have ever been guilty of the things they committed that made them likely suspects to the killing, but everyone keeps secrets in their lives, especially teens, whether it’s from their parents, friends, or themselves. And everyone worries about being blamed for something they didn’t do, and even more, paying the price for it.

Every character is three dimensional and imperfect. McManus does an incredible job setting up the different lives and personalities of each suspect, I mean character, so that it dodges a common flaw when you tell a story through four perspectives; usually that’s too many, leading to too many plots you have to juggle, too many side characters that are underdeveloped because they may only apply to one of the characters, plus slowing down the pace as it all unfolds. One Of Us Is Lying keeps the story on the race track, especially the convergence of the stories between Bronwyn and Nate. The side characters who turn into suspects as Simon’s true killer, or maybe an accomplice of Simon’s, are layered enough for us to not have to exhaustingly think back during their second appearance who they are again, and not too in-your-face to distract from the plot or make them obvious suspects. Which is great in a whodunit. You need to know the suspects well to make guesses, but not too much to roll your eyes at confused characters. I couldn’t wait to find out who killed Simon and if the person who was working with him was the same one, and I had a lot of fun with the references to the language in QAnon and an LGBTQ+ romance as surprising as it is sweet. I really cared if the heroes of this story would get together and stay together.

It’s too bad there’s a bit of false advertising with the book, especially since it’s not really McManus’ or anyone’s fault. The cover implies one of the kids in detention with Simon did the crime, but when we take turns sharing each and every perspective, that logic is thrown out the window. We realize automatically that they didn’t, so it was someone outside the detention room and therefore not on the cover, so no one on the cover is technically lying. But that’s fine. Being in the viewpoint instead of an outside detective interrogating and investigating the teenagers wouldn’t have been as fun or deep as what we get instead, a first-person look at four teenagers whose lives will never be normal again. I’m looking forward to One Of Us Is Next, but I’m nervous either someone I really care about will be next, or I’ll miss having the Bayview Breakfast Club as the ones I’ll be following.

If you like this, I’d try Stranger than Fanfiction & Struck By Lightning by Chris Colfer, and Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas

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