One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

One of Us is Lying Cover

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Pay close attention and you might solve this.

On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.
Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule. 
Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess. 
Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.
Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.
And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention, Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose? 

Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

2.5 STARS

CW: underage drinking, alcoholism, drug use, self-harm, suicide, parental neglect, abusive relationship, school shooting, homophobia, forced outing

It’s books like these that make me realize just how stinkin’ mundane my high school experience was, and man, am I glad. I mean, most high schools don’t have MURDER INVESTIGATION written all over them, but the parties and the drama and the uncertain friendships?

Thank goodness I missed a lot of that. I don’t think that would have been something I could handle.

But enough about high school for me, and more about high school for the Bayview Four, accused of murdering their classmate during detention! Bronwyn, Nate, Cooper, and Addy find themselves at the center of a police investigation after Simon, their classmate responsible for the eerily accurate school gossip app, dies during detention. It seems that the four of them can’t possibly have killed Simon, but who else could have done it?

On one hand, I went in knowing the answer. Someone had been running their mouth on Twitter and blatantly chucked the solution out there for everyone to see, so, you know, that kind of sucked a little bit of the fun out of trying to understand the book. I still got into trying to solve it, trying to put together the pieces, but it’s a little hard to get as into it when the main piece of the puzzle is solved for you by someone feeling careless with their murder mystery solutions.

That said, there were two things I especially enjoyed: Nate and Bronwyn’s relationship, and Addy’s character arc.

Normally, the bad boy/goody two shoes smart girl dynamic doesn’t really do it for me, but this time was a little different. I think the thing about it I liked best was that Nate goes at Bronwyn’s pace rather than his own, which is an arguably much faster pace. He, for the most part, lets her take the lead on anything they do together, and he doesn’t push too hard. There are moments when he closes off, and given his history and the workings of the murder investigation, it’s not entirely unrealistic that he’d shut down like that, but ultimately, he does actually attempt to do right by Bronwyn, and I can get behind that.

As for Addy, it’s very clear very early on that she’s in an abusive relationship, stuck under the controlling thumb of her boyfriend without truly realizing how unhealthy it is for her. She comes into the story like this, entirely focused on her appearance and what her boyfriend thinks, and I was prepared to be disappointed. Instead, her arc was fully fleshed out, and I got to root for her as she took her independence back and started worrying about herself instead of her boyfriend. It was a relief, really, to watch her come into her own and even take charge in the investigation the Bayview Four run on their own, trying to make sense of the event that’s upended their lives. Really, I think she’s my favorite character here.

That said, One of Us is Lying did a lot of things I really, REALLY didn’t like, and I have to get into spoiler territory for this. My apologies. For one, Addy’s social life gets destroyed over a single drunk hook-up with a boy who wasn’t her boyfriend. She’s slut-shamed to hell and back for it, even after owning up to it. Meanwhile, Cooper actively cheats on his girlfriend, but he’s never once called a cheater, even after it’s brought to light that he’s been seeing a boy named Kris, and that he’s gay. I have some sympathy for Cooper, given that he was afraid of his homophobic father’s reaction, and that he was forcibly outed (more on that in a minute), but that doesn’t make it okay that he strung Keely along instead of breaking up with her.

Another issue the novel has is that it treats Cooper being gay as more of a scandal and a plot twist than the identity of the murderer. It turns Cooper’s life into a spectator sport, more than it already is, given his potential baseball career, and it makes him absolutely miserable because he has no control over who gets to know. He’s forcibly outed over the course of the investigation, and it’s horrible.

And cherry on top, mental illness is treated HORRIBLY. On one hand, the incidents with Nate’s parents show that mental illness affects more than just the person with the mental illness, but also their close family. On the other hand, Nate’s mom is treated like shit even after she shows back up with a handle on her mental illness, trying to be there for her son rather than just breezing through.

That’s the mild version, though, because (spoilers again, I’m so sorry, but it has to be done) the two depressed characters in the novel? One’s basically a teenage terrorist who chose suicide and convoluted life-ruining via gossip app over school shootings, since shootings are to him “been there done that,” while destroying reputations by ending his own life and pinning the blame on someone else is more original, and then the other character with depression is the outcast goth girl who was his accomplice.

So yeah, that’s a big YIKES from me, thank you very much. When you frame your only mentally ill characters as antagonists that have actively ruined the lives of the protagonists with little remorse until it’s too late to do better, that doesn’t sit right with me. It feels like cheap shock value, and it feels dismissive of mental illness as well.

It’s possible this might have been a better book if characters’ sexualities and mental illnesses weren’t treated like scandals, but as it is, I’m not really thrilled with that approach, and it lowered my opinion of this book a lot. Add someone spoiling it for me, and this hasn’t been the best bookish experience I’ve had. C’est la vie, I suppose.

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