Title: One of Us is Lying
Author: Karen M. McManus
Genre(s): Young Adult Fiction, Mystery, Suspense
Gisselle's Rating: 4.5/5
DISCLAIMER: This review may contain spoilers for One of Us is Lying.
The first novel that I read of Karen M. McManus was One of Us is Lying, following the recommendation of my younger brother. Similarly to my response of The Cousins, McManus captured my attention from the beginning of One of Us is Lying. I was riveted by the plot and the story's concept did not allow me to truly put the book down. If I had my physical copy, I would read without pause, and when I couldn't physically be reading, I would instead turn to the audiobook. I could not help but keep myself tuned in with One of Us is Lying's story: five teenagers stuck in after-school detention... and only four emerge alive.
One of Us is Lying follows the lives of teenagers Bronwyn Rojas, Nate McCauley, Addie Prentiss, and Cooper Clay as they deal with the aftermath of their classmate, Simon Kelleher's, death during detention. They don't just grapple with the sudden trauma of witnessing a classmate die, but must also abruptly adjust to scrutiny from the public eye after their images are featured in the media and in their school, labeling them as either possible suspects or unfortunate scapegoats by the local police. One thing was apparent, though: someone in that detention knew what happened to Simon, and no one is immune to the uncovering of secrets that they would rather keep buried.
Some of the secrets that were revealed were a bit obvious to me, such as Nate distributing drugs to the youth of Bayview High School and Addie cheating on her boyfriend. I actually thought that Addie's trip to the nurse's office - which the police continued to question her about and was a detail that we don't get the true answer to until much later - was due to morning sickness or something related to pregnancy from infidelity. This would be one of the several red-herrings that McManus introduces in One of Us is Lying. I figured that Bronwyn's secret had to do with academics, since there was so much emphasis on her grades, her desire to go to Yale, and her immigrant father pushing her to give it her all in everything she did. Cooper was where I was completely fooled; I was so convinced that his secret had to do with sports or with cheating as well, but as I mentioned before, McManus introduces a lot of red herrings in this book.
While some of these teens' secrets were predictable, it was still compelling to watch all of their private matters get wrenched from the darkness and into the light, exposing them for further investigation in who may have been responsible for Simon's death. McManus successfully had me changing my mind about who I thought was the culprit, what other secrets each teen had hidden away, how they all linked together, and I was rendered shocked by the answer of what really happened to Simon that fateful day.
Unlike my reaction to the romance present in The Cousins, I really enjoyed reading about Nate and Bronwyn's romance in this book. It felt like a natural progression, rather than a relationship of circumstance and displaced emotion. I actually laughed out loud when Nate asked Bronwyn whether she would still want to be with him once everything is over and he is no longer a murder suspect; it felt a bit self-aware in a way that was organic and refreshing. But having Bronwyn and Nate get together by the book's end made sense in a way that Mille and Jonah's relationship didn't; they had been childhood friends that had drifted apart as they got older, though they had been aware of each other's presence throughout their lives. It was logical for them to find one another once more - circumstances unfortunate as they may be - and fall into that next step.
Another element of the novel that I enjoyed was the examination of how the media works in cases that become public like this. While media can be a tool that can be utilized in crime cases, it can also be a hindrance to the investigation. One of Us is Lying throws scrutiny onto the practice of the media and its impact on public opinion. All too often throughout the novel, the focus would shift onto one of the four teens involved, throwing accusations, allegations, and suspicions onto one and shifting that focus onto someone else the following week. Where media promoted their thoughts and reports, public opinion would follow, mostly not for the better. It was a prime example of how media can be as destructive in these types of cases as much as it can also be helpful, and McManus did a great job at shining light on this.
Here is a critique I have about a detail in the book that I wish McManus had explored a bit more: how Simon actually got his information that he published on About That. That was never explicitly answered in the novel. It felt like a cheap cop-out, in a way, like McManus escaped having to find a plausible explanation for how the looming antagonist managed to obtain such private and thought-to-be concealed information from all of his victims. The only real 'explanation' was that no one knew how he got his information, but it was always correct. It frustrated me that that was the mystery that was left alone. Simon was supposed to be a typical high school boy who had learned coding and was desperate for acceptance and an identity; this element of him just makes him feel a bit more powerful than anyone of his caliber should be. He feels a bit more omniscient than is possible, and I wish we were able to find out the how behind Simon. Perhaps this question is answered in the next book..?
Regardless, I enjoyed this book a lot more than The Cousins by a long shot. In a way, it felt like what would have occurred in The Breakfast Club if there was a more sinister plot involved, and I was delighted when I learned that that 80s film was partially what inspired McManus here. McManus executes her story well, all of her characters are relatable and likeable, and the romance was organic and very sweet to experience. It was a thrilling ride that left me questioning my knowledge of the characters and their motives, and it kept me guessing until the very end. I look forward to seeing what the second book in the series, One of Us is Next, brings to the table.