One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus (Review)

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.

Less than a week until the release of One of Us is Next so I just had to reread One of Us is Lying to catch myself up on all the characters and remind myself of everything that went down in Bayview. When I first read this is 2017 I gave it 4 stars, but on reread I actually bumped it to 5. This book is really good, guys, and Karen McManus continues to be a Must-Buy author for me.

SPOILER WARNING: I will be discussing the book in some depth. I won’t reveal the big twist, but given that there are character secrets that are revealed later in the story, some of this is likely ‘spoilery’. I want to talk about the relevance of those secrets, though, so here we are.

Rating: 5 stars!

Read me for the:

  • Gripping mystery
  • Well developed POV’s
  • Twisty as HELL plot
  • Teenagers that sound like teenagers
  • A book you will read in one sitting

The plot:

Five kids get detention for having phones in their bags. Phones they know nothing about. Cooper, the Jock. Addy, the beauty. Bronwyn, the brain. Nate, the criminal. Simon, the outcast. Five walk into detention, and only four walk out. Investigators think that Simon’s death wasn’t an accident, after they discover that his gossip app was queued to post juicy gossip about all four of his high-profile detention mates the next day. Are Cooper, Addy, Bronwyn and Nate the obvious suspects, or are they easy patsies for killer who’s getting away with murder? How far would the so-called Bayview Four go to protect their secrets?

What did I think?

I first read this book in 2017, and then I read Two Can Keep A Secret earlier this year. Considering I don’t read a lot of adult crime/mystery, I’ve got a huge soft spot for it in YA novels. To me, Karen McManus is definitely one of the best writers in the genre. So when One of Us is Next was announced, I knew I had to reread the book and refresh myself on the characters. Coming into my reread, the ONLY thing I could remember was the Big Twist. The reading experience was still just as good for knowing what was eventually coming, particularly as I could barely remember each characters individual secrets.

I don’t remember discovering the big twist for the first time, so I can’t comment on how easy it was to guess, though I did enjoy finding all the clues the second time around. For me, the best part of this book is the characters. They feel so fleshed out and real. Often when books have multiple POVs I worry that I’m going to be reading about a couple of shallow, underdeveloped characters, but in One of Us is Lying, we’ve actually got four well-written main characters. I think it’s fair to say that Cooper and Bronwyn are the most focal and most developed, but I liked all four of the characters arcs.

Cooper is the athlete, he’s good at baseball? I think he’s very, very good at baseball, but I know nothing about the sport, so. As far as I can tell, Cooper could start playing professionally as soon as he graduates high school, or he could walk into most colleges with a scholarship. He’s the jock type, with a father constantly pushing his achievements and the kindest, prettiest girl as his girlfriend. At first the book wants you to think that his secret is that he’s using steroids to improve, but actually we find out fairly early on that Cooper is texting someone who definitely isn’t his girlfriend. Later in the book, we discover that that person is Kris, a guy that Cooper has been dating. Cooper is forcibly outed as part of the investigation into Simon’s death. It’s… brutal. I do think that the majority of characters respond with the appropriate amount of rage and horror to Cooper being outed without his consent, but I do wish we’d been privy to it a little earlier. I think it could have been mentioned during the first texting scene, without it being saved for a twisty reveal. Sexuality isn’t a plot twist. Saying that, as a queer reader I’m still pretty happy with the way it was represented. Watching Cooper’s family deal with his coming out, and how he handled the situation he’d been thrown into was powerful reading, especially as someone who ended up having to come out earlier than she planned due to schoolyard gossip.

Addy, the beauty. Addy, Addy, Addy. I actually really love Addy. At first she seems like the prissy popular girl stereotype, which is just about my least favourite female stereotype, but fuck her character arc gave me life. Her boyfriend, Jake, is a complete toilet. He’s manipulative and controlling, and Addy is a passive participant in their relationship because that’s the way she’s been raised. One quote literally boils my piss.

I never turn Jake down. It’s like my mother said when she first took me to get birth control: if you say no too much, pretty soon someone else will say yes.

Addy’s mum is living vicariously through Addy and her sister, and Jake is using her to craft the perfect girlfriend. At the beginning of the novel she is a little annoying and a little shallow, but I think that that is part of the uncertainty she feels about who she is. She definitely plays a backseat to Cooper and Bronwyn’s more focal narratives, but when Addy starts developing her personality more fiercely, I love her for it. Her long Barbie hair is a prominent feature in the early part of the book, and when she cut it all pixie short and dyed it, I felt my heart sing. I hid behind long, blonde, pretty hair for a long time in secondary school, and cutting it off set me free. I loved seeing that reflected in Addy.

I do want to address an inequality in the text that was… really frustrating. Addy’s big secret is that she got drunk, felt insecure and had sex with one of Jake’s friends. I hate cheating, and I hate cheaters, but even I can feel for her here. It was a mistake, and one that’s been eating her up inside ever since. Her guilt around this, and the punishments her peers inflict on her for this one night stand are huge. It’s crippling to her, and the way she feels about it impacts her behaviour throughout the whole book. Cooper faces none of this. His affair with Kris was long-standing and emotional, and there’s no backlash for him cheating on Keely, and I’m not sure it’s even ever addressed in the text that what he was doing was cheating. It would have been nice for Cooper’s infidelity to be addressed in a similar way, or some kind of guilt shown, because when female fidelity is more important than male fidelity, we’re looking at slut-shaming.

Bronwyn is the brain. She’s set for Yale, and has always worked hard, played straight and stayed focused. Bronwyn feels a lot like our traditional YA MC. She’s clever, she’s the good girl. Honestly, for the first part of the story, there’s nothing new about Bronwyn? Her big secret is that she cheated to pass a subject she was failing, which is a huge guilt thing for her. I get that, I went to a high pressure school and if my parents hadn’t been the coolest people ever I probably would have been as A+ obsessed as Bronwyn. But during the second half of the novel, Bronwyn really becomes interesting. A lot of that is due to her relationship with Nate, and her fight to find the truth about what happened to Simon. She’s pretty bad-ass, and between Bronwyn and Maeve (her sister) they are pulling NO punches when it comes to collecting evidence, clearing names and catching a killer. I just wish she could have been that punchy from the start. Also, her last minute romance for jealousy/drama? Snore.

Nate, the criminal, has a fierce backstory. His secret is barely a secret at all. He deals drugs, and if it came out then he’d be sent to juvie. A motive, but not much of a secret. Instead, what we learn about Nate through the novel is about his family, about the neglect he goes through and how he learned to look after himself. We learn about the father he has to parent, and the mother who left him behind, and why Nate doesn’t trust people to be on his side. He’s an easy scapegoat, and he knows it. I do think he gets side-lined a bit, and that’s a shame. I think more Addy and more Nate would have made me love this book more, but I’m hoping to see more of Nate in One of Us is Next.

So, the relationship between Nate and Bronwyn abso-fucking-lutely makes this book. Sure, I love the bad-boy/good-girl shtick as much as the next YA sucker, but more than that I love the way they draw together in a crisis. The Bayview Four becomes the murder club, and Nate and Bronwyn especially start that process. (Sidenote: when Nate stood up for Cooper? My crops were watered). They have to sneak around, they know they’re being dangerous but they need to see each other and need to talk, and what starts as comfort from someone who understands turns into a surprisingly wholesome star-crossed-lovers thing. The ending of the book, in regards to Nate and Bronwyn, is messy but it’s real. When the pressure is over, they have to relearn each other, and I think an ending that’s a little ambiguous can be better than a hasty HEA.


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