“Everybody’s got secrets,” he says. “Right?”
Thank you very much to Penguin Random House Australia for providing a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.
I am still reeling from the perfection that was this book.
One of Us is Lying is a refreshing take on the YA contemporary/mystery, loosely inspired by The Breakfast Club, but with a hint of murder, scandals, and romance. This remarkably well-written novel has fast become one of the best books I have read so far this year.
When five teenagers are given detention for having phones in class, they expect only another boring day at school: Bronwyn, the brain, is bound for Yale and never breaks the rules; Addy, the beauty, has a picture-perfect boyfriend and is the future homecoming queen; Cooper, the jock, is the all-star baseball player on the fast-track to any scholarship he wants; Nate, the criminal, is on probation for dealing; and Simon, the outcast, is hated by almost everyone at school for his gossip app that has ruined lives and driven one girl to attempt suicide.
Five teenagers go into that classroom … but only four come out. Before the end of detention, Simon is dead. According to the police, it was murder, and what’s even worse is that Simon was planning on releasing the life-altering secrets of all four of his fellow detentionees – which makes them all suspects in his murder. Did they really do it … or are they being set up by a killer that still on the loose?
When starting this novel, I fully expected that there would be a few issues in regards to the perspectives – four POVs is a lot for a short novel, and absurdly difficult to pull off. But McManus did it! And not just adequately, but perfectly. I fell in love with Bronwyn, Nate, Addy and Cooper, and the thought that one of them might be lying physically hurt me. I haven’t connected with this many characters at the same time since Six of Crows. All I wanted to do was protect each of them, and every time one of them was questioned by police, I was practically sick to my stomach with worry. (I know I sound like an overbearing parent, but I really felt for them!)
While these characters stem from high school stereotypes (jock, nerd, bad boy, mean girl), the tropes placed on them are wonderfully subverted as each character goes through some intense development. In just 360 pages, McManus delves deep into the lives of four completely different teenagers as they come to terms with a traumatic event, and allows them to learn and change for the better. She does this with all four characters – I know some authors who struggle with intricate character development for just one character! You could even say One of Us is Lying works as a Bildungsroman in a sense, as each character grows exponentially. I believe that almost every reader will be able to emotionally connect with at least one of these characters. I saw parts of myself in each of the four characters and have no doubt others will view themselves in them too.
Bronwyn is the high-achiever; you know that nerd who sits at the front of the classroom, answers every question, and sucks up to the teacher? (i.e. me). While Bronwyn is considered the brains of the little group that forms after the media and classmates turn against the four, she grows as a person and comes to the realisation that her future, while still important, is not worth everything. Due to her sister’s illness and her Latino father’s struggle to become successful, Bronwyn puts a lot of pressure upon herself to be the best and make her parents proud. I really felt for her and admired her strength and intellect.
Nate is the drug dealer and the resident bad boy. His bipolar mother disappeared years ago and his father copes by drinking himself into a stupor, leaving Nate to act like the adult and pay the bills. While Nate begins the novel acting like, well, a criminal, as the story develops, we see another side to Nate: a caring side, a sweet side; he doesn’t have much love in his life, but he craves it more than he wants to admit. Nate also starts a relationship with one of the other characters, and I shipped it from the very moment I sensed the author going in that direction. I can’t even begin to explain how much I loved these two characters together. Y’all know I’m a sucker for a bad boy, so no surprises when I loved him.
I absolutely adored Cooper. The novel’s most popular boy in school and the best player on the baseball team, Cooper should come across as a typical jock, but he is one of two characters who goes through the most compelling character development. The best way to describe him is that he is the epitome of a genuine good guy: he cares for people and he stands by someone when they go through hell. He also harbours a deep secret that tugged on my heart strings. I’m so glad McManus developed his character this way, because this particular issue is still considered very taboo for those in the sport-world. There’s not enough positive representation, and I send a big thank you to McManus for opening this discussion.
If anyone were to ask me why I cried when reading this book, it was because of the new love of my life: Addy. At the beginning of the novel, Addy is this robot of a girlfriend – like the ultimate Stepford Wife. Her boyfriend practically dictates her life, her mother is obsessed with having a man to take care of her and has drummed that into Addy, and she only cares for her looks and her beautiful blonde hair. But that changes after her secret is revealed. Like Cooper, Addy goes through some of the best development I have seen in a long time, and I felt like a proud Mama bear by the end of the novel. Addy is an angel sent from heaven with purple hair. I adore her.
One of Us is Lying has an incredibly fast-paced storyline, rich with intrigue and suspense. I read the novel in one sitting – I even stayed awake till 2 a.m. just to finish it. I used to be a massive Crime fiction aficionado, so I can usually guess the ending of a novel. In fact, I would put my odds at 9/10 times. But in this case, I could not pick out the murderer for the life of me – and when we find out the answer, it will blow you away. I literally took notes as to who I thought the real killer was and what their potential motive could be, and was still completely wrong! This book also talks about many sensitive issues, mainly diversity and mental health, and treats them with respect while also opening up a dialogue for further discourse.
(I also wanted to quickly point out that many people are comparing this book to Pretty Little Liars, and while there are some similarities, the teens in this book are so much smarter than the PLL: for one, they don’t discuss their problems in the middle of a public space; two, they actively try to figure out who the killer is; and three, they take many precautions as opposed to the PLL who literally make the stupidest decisions ever.)
McManus’ writing was top-notch and I still can’t believe this is a debut novel, because it certainly doesn’t read like one. Each character’s voice was individual and in tune with how teenagers think and feel in reality. It’s so easy to get swept up into the story, which is probably why I read the book so quickly. I wish I could go back and savour the novel properly; I’ll just have to settle for a reread instead.
One of Us is Lying is already 2017’s best YA mystery – I’m calling it. It’s true. I cannot find a fault with the novel and I had a genuinely fun, if sometimes frantic, reading experience. I can’t wait for McManus’ next novel – I’ll be keeping a watchful eye out for her from now on.