REVIEW: One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus

Read on Goodreads

5/5 stars

Holy shit.

I got to the last page of this book seconds ago, and I can tell that this is one that’ll be staying with me for a long time. Like almost everyone else who found One of Us Is Lying on Goodreads months before its publication, I immediately drew the connection to The Breakfast Club. But, without giving too much away, it was so much more than that. If derivative of that movie at all, One of Us Is Lying is The Breakfast Club meets And Then There Were None. Whatever I expected out of this book, it wasn’t the extent to which it absolutely gripped me and refused to let me go–over a period of just over 24 hours, I read it every spare moment I got until it was finished. I’ll admit that I guessed the ultimate big bad from the very first scene, yet I was never 100% sure. You think you’ve found out all of one character’s dark secrets, but have you?

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It’s hard to praise McManus’s plot twists without revealing spoilers, but they were perfectly timed. Often I find that with whodunits I get bored in the second act of a three-act structure, when it’s just the protagonist performing a long series of hunt for clues/deal with obstacles in personal life/rinse and repeat, but One of Us Is Lying never fell into that trap. The nature of the crime and the way that teenagers handled it was impressively realistic, bar the slightly over-the-top mean girl antics from Vanessa in particular. (She does get her comeuppance, though, in one of YA fiction’s greatest justice-boner scenes.) You really get the feeling that these are just young people trying to do their best with the shitty hand they were dealt. And it’s especially fantastic that by the end of the novel, the “Bayview Four” have all reached a better place than where they started, for one reason or another.

Okay, now for the romance: Dayum.

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(I’m not the biggest fan of Divergent, but Bronwyn loves it, so here we go. Minor spoilers below.)

On the one hand, One of Us Is Lying totally embraces the “good girl falls for bad boy” trope–complete with disapproving parents, secret midnight rendezvouses, and a drug-dealing, tragic backstory-toting hottie with the sexiest mouth. On the other hand, the book does it so damn well. One: They don’t fall in love over looks. This is so important when I’m reading YA fiction. Sure, it’s wonderful and all if your boyfriend is destined for the next GQ cover, but we all know our share of eye candies with little else to recommend them. Yes, yes, yes so much to the fact that Bronwyn and Nate are so cute and so in love and physical attraction isn’t the main reason.

“Not because we’re thrown together in this weird situation and I think you’re hot, although I do. But because you’re smart, and funny, and you do the right thing more often than you give yourself credit for.” Amen.

Two: It’s not just a good girl/bad boy story. That we read from Nate’s POV just as often as Bronwyn’s means that we see the normally rarely explored vulnerable side of the male romantic interest. Sure, he’s messed up and desperate and doing what it takes to survive, but he’s also kind, insightful, and ready to crawl out of the hole that circumstances have put him in. And I winced when I read the part about him struggling to pay ambulance bills. This book is timely as hell and pulls no punches when it comes to realities like that. As for Bronwyn, she’s an overachieving perfectionist under an immense amount of pressure to perform–and who doesn’t know what that feels like–but she also develops in a way that made me so proud of her. And guess who saves who in the end?

In fact, all of the characters (maybe bar Vanessa–seriously, fuck her) receive this kind of three-dimensional treatment. The cast is pretty sprawling, but once you get to know who’s who telling them apart comes so naturally, thanks in large part to how well each figure is written. For almost everyone you can nod along and think, yep, I know someone like that in real life. Well, hopefully not Simon, at least. No matter how much you come to understand their psyche and even sympathise with them a little by the end, seeing all their motives, that kid is just…no.

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Verdict: Laugh, and cry, and most of all, think, cause this is one wild ride.

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