What a title, right? If there is one thing I know about myself it is that I am terrible at naming things. Be that book titles, character names, fictional cities, whatever. I cannot name things. So I am jealous that Karen McManus found such an interesting title for her young adult debut mystery/suspense novel, One of Us is Lying.
I have found myself drawn to young adult contemporary recently. Those are the stories I am most interested in telling right now and I generally try to read in the genre I am writing in. This book interested me from the first time I read the blurb on the back. I am very glad I finally got around to reading it.
One of Us is Lying centers around four high school students who served detention together. During this detention, a fifth student, a guy named Simon who created a gossip app that ruined people’s lives, died after drinking water laced with peanut oil. Now the other four students are suspects and must solve who actually killed Simon before the rumor mill takes them all down.
It is hard for me to properly review the plot of One of Us is Lying without going into spoilers. I’ll give an overview on my thoughts and then have a section, properly warned, with a few spoilers.
All in all, I didn’t particularly love or hate the plot. It was intriguing where it needed to be, engaging in a few spots, but it also felt slow at points. Which isn’t what you want in a suspense novel, but that could be because I am outside of the target demographic for this book. That element always causes issues when I review young adult books. I am not a young adult. What connects with that audience might not connect with me. But, by perusing the Goodreads reviews, it seems that other people have similar concerns as me.
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The mystery didn’t feel mysterious. Because of the perspective style, which we’ll get into later, it never once crossed my mind that any of the four main protagonists committed the crime. They didn’t and we know that because we take turns in each of their heads. So, even though I love the title, One of Us is Lying is kind of misleading. Unless you count Simon as one of them, which I wouldn’t because he wasn’t a part of their group, then none of them were lying. Or all of them were lying depending on how you view the secrets they kept. Either way, not only one of them was lying.
Honestly, I think this would have been a far more interesting plot if it was revealed that it was in fact one of the four. The actual reveal didn’t hit me like I would want a mystery reveal to hit. It fell flat. I did not care about the two characters involved in the conspiracy and the actual murderer didn’t seem like a twist. It felt blunt and the most uninteresting way to resolve the interesting question presented.
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The characters were stereotypical and cliche. But they were supposed to be. I saw that McManus drew inspiration from the Breakfast Club for this book. It makes sense that she took the traditional high school stereotypes and gave them secrets to show that everyone has secrets. No one can be reduced to their stereotypes. While I admire that mission, I still didn’t enjoy the characters all that well.
I thought the love story was forced and those characters didn’t go together all that well. Every character felt similar in how they acted and spoke. Simon was the most interesting character with the most depth and he left the story quite early.
All in all, I wouldn’t call the characters a strength of this book, but young adult needs to have strong characters to survive and flourish. Again, this could be a demographic thing. People in the age range might swoon over Nate or see themselves in these characters more than I did. But I did not connect with them.
I normally don’t review writing style, because it is so subjective, but Karen McManus’s style choices in One of Us is Lying actually played a major role in why I didn’t love this book like I wanted to.
Her decision to write from all four character’s perspectives removed quite a bit of the mystery. We knew they weren’t lying, we were in their heads. Also, all of the characters sounded the same. Until names or settings were mentioned, I wouldn’t be able to tell apart different sections. They all had the same voice. If we were going to ruin the mystery by being with all of them, I’d like to see some distinction. It might have made the characters stronger.
This might seem like a bit of a shock considering I mostly highlighted the stuff in this novel that I didn’t like, but I actually quite enjoyed it. There were times that I felt fully engrossed in this story. Times when I didn’t want to go to bed because I needed to know what happened next.
No one expects this book to be the pinnacle of literature. Grad students aren’t going to be studying it 100 years from now. I don’t think McManus even intended the book to be considered in that light. It is intended to be an entertaining story and I think it nailed that. At the end of this novel, despite the issues I had with it, I was entertained.
I think I approached it overly critical because it is the genre I would like to write in more, so I’m paying more attention to what I like and don’t like to try and improve my own writing. And don’t get me wrong, I think McManus is a far better writer than me.
All of that to say, I’d give this book a 3 out of 5. It isn’t going to be winning any best of literature awards, but it does what it sets out to do. And I think that’s admirable.