Tuesday 15 August 2017

One Of Us Is Lying, Karen McManus

"Unless one of us is lying. Which is always a possibility."
Yale hopeful Bronwyn has never publicly broken a rule.

Sports star Cooper only knows what he's doing in the baseball diamond.

Bad body Nate is one misstep away from a life of crime.

Prom queen Addy is holding together the cracks in her perfect life.

And outsider Simon, creator of the notorious gossip app at Bayview High, won't ever talk about any of them again.

He dies 24 hours before he could post their deepest secrets online. Investigators conclude it's no accident. All of them are suspects.

* * * *
4 / 5 

I've been itching to get my hands on One Of Us Is Lying ever since I got denied an ARC of it on Netgalley. I was attempting to save money, but finally caved and bought it at Waterstones. One Of Us Is Lying reminded me of Pretty Little Liars: a bunch of teens with secrets and one murder. We get the points of view of each of the four main characters, who are all complex and intriguing, and the book is superbly paced.

"She's a princess and you're a jock," he says. He thrusts his chin toward Bronwyn, then Nate. "And you're a brain. And you're a criminal. You're all walking teen-movie stereotypes" 

Five teenagers walk into detention because they were discovered with phones on them, phones that did not belong to them. Only four walk out again; Simon dies of an allergic reaction and all the epipens in the school building mysteriously disappeared. The twist? Simon was the admin of Bayview High's gossip app, spilling the dirtiest and most mundane secrets in the school, and he was just about to reveal devastating secrets about the four teenagers in the room with him when he died. To the police, that makes them the primary suspects. So, who do we have?

Bronwyn. She's a nerd and aiming for Yale. Her little sister Maeve was seriously ill and Bronwyn's parents have always instilled in her an appreciation for hard work. Her secret is the exciting of the four, it's downright mundane. Whilst I liked her narrative voice, her parts were probably the most boring of the four. 

Addy. She's dated her boyfriend Jake since she was fourteen and has unwittingly let her life become defined by him. Her mother entered her in beauty pageants when she was young and constantly harasses her about her looks and her husband-making opportunities, a household from which her older sister, Ashton, tried to escape by entering into a marriage, which is now failing. I liked Addy quite a lot, she probably undergoes the most development.

Cooper. His dad has been preparing Cooper for professional baseball since he showed an aptitude for it when he was knee-high. His secret is the only one which is genuinely interesting or creative; part of the point of the book, I think, is to take these four teenagers who are cliches, walking stereotypes, and flesh them out into "real" people. The cost of this is creating characters who are predictable, and Cooper was the only one who managed to surprise me.

Nate. He's the bad boy of the group, spending his probation for dealing drugs by, you guessed it, dealing drugs. He's the only one who isn't from a rich home, which makes him something of scapegoat in the eyes of the law. I empathised a lot with Nate's situation, but I never felt like he did a lot to advance the whole murder plot-line. 

"I guess we're almost friends now, or as friendly as you can get when you're not one hundred percent sure the other person isn't framing you for murder"

This book masterfully pulls together so many strands; there's the ongoing investigation balanced with each character's in-depth personal troubles from terrible parents to failing relationships to struggles with sexuality. There's the mystery of Simon and the sense throughout the book that you can't quite trust anyone, even the main four, that's maintained over the full 350 pages. It's quite fast-paced and had me quickly flicking pages until the very end. Which brings me to a couple of issues that I had with One Of Us Is Lying which denies it that coveted five stars. 

The ending, the epilogue, was a bit too cheesy for my tastes. For a book that had spent so much time with each character's problems, it was just a bit too neat, but it did provide a sense of closure which was nice. I'm also conflicted about the answer to the murder. It's hard to discuss without spoilers, but I felt simultaneously that it was a bit of a cop-out but also impressed because I didn't manage to guess the culprit. This might be due to the fact that I had trouble keeping track of everyone: in addition to the main four, they all have brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, significant others (often more than one!), and on top of all that there's all these random people from school. I did find it hard to keep everyone distinct in my mind.

Overall, One Of Us Is Lying is an amazing YA thriller / mystery read. It's got so much going and is so complex, trying to invert all these teenage stereotypes. McManus does a very impressive job of giving each of the four main characters a distinct voice and making me care for all of them. 

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