Title: One of Us is Lying
Author: Karen McManus
Page count: 361 pages
Summary: When Simon, the school gossip, mysteriously dies of anaphylactic shock after drinking just a glass of water, the finger is pointed at the people in detention with him at the time – an unlikely bunch including the homecoming queen, the star jock, the overachiever and the school criminal. When mysterious secrets about the four begin to surface on Simon’s gossip app following his death, we start to wonder how far the characters would go to protect their secrets. Drawn into the centre of a murder investigation, this fast-paced whodunnit keeps you guessing until the very end.
One of Us is Lying was one of those books I picked up expecting a middle-of-the-range mystery, but after just a few chapters, I could see why Karen M. McManus’ debut had been cropping up all over my Instagram feed.
Think The Breakfast Club sprinkled with Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars, thrown together with the tantalizing slow burn of an Agatha Christie mystery, and you’ll get an idea of what this book is like. The story follows Bronwyn, a straight A student destined for Yale; Addy, the It Girl dating the sports star; Cooper, the jock with a heart; Nate, the kid who spends all his time in detention when he’s not adding to his criminal record; and Simon, the school’s version of Perez Hilton, constantly posting gossip on his app, About That.
Drama in detention
This unlikely bunch is thrown together in detention after getting caught with mobile phones in their bags in the school lab, which isn’t permitted. All students say the phones were planted on them, and they have their own mobile in their pockets to prove it. Simon, who has a severe peanut allergy, can’t find his water bottle, so he fills up a glass at the back of the room and drinks from it – before suffering a severe anaphylactic attack.
His Epi-Pen is nowhere to be found, there was a mysterious car crash in the school parking lot which distracted everyone after he drank from the glass, and as he’s taken away in an ambulance, the question everyone is asking is “how did someone with a peanut allergy have a fatal allergic reaction to a glass of water?”
One of them is lying – but who?
It’s not long before the police are asking the same question, and Bronwyn, Addy, Cooper and Nate’s lives are turned upside down as they’re put on trial by the police, the media, and their schoolmates.
Told through the perspective of each character in turn, the mystery grows and grows throughout the book as we get to know the characters, understand their circumstances, and start to trust them. You’re constantly guessing – someone had to have done it, so who was it? One of them is lying. Alongside the drama surrounding Simon’s death, we learn about each character’s individual dramas, and begin to root for them. But all the time you know someone killed Simon. Who can’t be trusted?
Is that you, Gossip Girl?
The mystery thickens further when Tumblr posts from an anonymous person begin cropping up after Simon’s death, revealing unposted secrets from About That’s drafts around the four who shared a detention with Simon. Bearing in mind that Simon created and ran the app alone, along with his reputation for only posting the truth, these deep, dark secrets surfacing with a disturbing account of Simon’s death are unsettling to say the least.
The secrets themselves are the type you’d be desperate to cover up; the type that could not only damage your social standing at high school, but potentially change your life. Simon died on Monday, before managing to hit the publish button on these secrets as he planned to on Tuesday. Is it possible that one of Simon’s classmates knew the dirt he had on them, and silenced him to keep it from getting out?
This book is all about perception and stereotyping in some ways. If this happened at your school, would you suspect the kid with a criminal record, or the Yale fast-track overachiever who’s missing her Mathlete practice for a detention she shouldn’t be in? The stereotypes are carefully played out, then cleverly nipped in the bud – the whole book is a teasing process of thinking you’ve cracked it, only to be sent hurtling back to square one.
In terms of character development, this book’s protagonists are hardly recognisable from the start to the end of the book. Some of them change completely, others accept a part of themselves they kept hidden, and some become more vibrant and passionate versions of themselves, their shells broken by slow-building cracks the case caused.
It’s a fun, fast-paced and riveting read, which definitely picks up the pace around halfway through. At the start, the characters are almost black and white versions of themselves at the end of the book, so it can be a little confusing jumping from person A’s narrative to person B’s similar one as the story pans out, which is the only reason I’ve marked this book a star down.
How far would you go to protect your secrets?
This book is cleverly written to get inside your head; who has the most to lose? Probably Bronwyn, right? She’s on the fast track to Yale; something that could be stripped away from her if she ends up too embroiled in a murder case, or exposed on a gossip app. But then, if she’s got the most motive, how can it be Nate, the criminal in the detention room with the least to lose?
One of Us is Lying plays with the fears we all have around our secrets. Whether it’s something trivial but embarrassing or something huge that could change your life and the lives of those around you, this book toys with you and makes you wonder what you’d do in that situation. How far would you go to protect your secrets?
If you fancy yourself as a bit of a detective and reckon you can guess the plot before the book is up, I’d say to give this one a shot. I knew who I didn’t think it was, but I hadn’t even considered the real story that panned out. I did guess in the right ballpark, so a more savvy thriller reader might reach the “A-ha!” moment before me, but for a YA thriller, this book is intriguingly woven together and kept my attention the whole way through. I’d recommend it – even if you reckon you’ll guess how it all goes down, the book has much more to offer. It’s a clever and modern take on the The Breakfast Club with killer twist.
If you’ve read this, did you guess the twist? If you haven’t, what’s your favourite mystery/thriller? Let me know in the comments!