Review: One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Bentley’s Grade: B

Title: One of Us is Lying
Author: Karen M. McManus
Publisher and Date: Delacorte Press 2017
Page Length: 358
Genre: YA Mystery

Brief Summary: 
Addy, Nate, Bronwyn, Cooper, and Simon end up in detention with Mr. Avery for having cellphones in his class; however, those cellphones don’t belong to them. Shortly after detention begins, Simon’s allergic reaction and subsequent death interrupt the boredom. The police declare his death to be premeditated owing to the peanut oil found in the cup Simon drank from immediately prior to his fatal reaction. So who killed Simon? Was it one of the four students with him in detention? They all certainly have motive, for Simon ran a gossip app that was scheduled to release new secrets about each of them the following day—secrets that could potentially destroy their teenage lives forever.  

As far as YA fiction goes, I enjoyed the novel. Divided into three parts, the story unfolds through the POVs of the other teens who had detention with Simon: Addy, Nate, Bronwyn, and Cooper. Telling the story through the first person is a good choice, for we (the readers) can only know what the characters know, or more importantly, what the characters choose to tell us; therefore, the possibility always exists that we are being lied to or purposefully misled. I admit that although I suspected those involved in Simon’s death, I could not be 100% sure until the final reveal. I commend McManus for her ability to maintain the mystery. (You’ll know from reading my other reviews that if Waldo is too easy to spot, I find it thoroughly irritating). 

In terms of voice, I am slightly disappointed. None of the characters have distinct voices and without the names to announce the POV, you’d have to rely solely on the details (i.e. parent’s names, sports played, clothes worn, etc.) to figure out whose head you’re in. A date stamp also accompanies the names, which I found to be a useless addition as it provides no clarification or new information. 

Now, I’m sure I can’t be the only person to notice the eerie similarities between One of Us is Lying, and the 80s film classic The Breakfast Club. Seriously. Take a look at the characters’ descriptions on the front jacket flap: the brain, the beauty, the criminal, the athlete, the outcast—sound familiar? Five kids file into detention, followed by a no-nonsense teacher who demands they write a reflective essay… yes, I’m describing the novel here; however, the novel’s plot takes a complete deviation from the film when Simon dies—definitely not a John Hughes production. Even so, the film clearly made an impression on the author. I imagine her sitting on the couch one day, having just rewatched the film on Netflix and feeling particularly nostalgic, thinking, what if instead of pot, makeovers, and dance montages, one of the kids gets murdered? Yes, I should write that down! And it’s because of this lack of originality that garnered the B rating.

I will say that I appreciate McManus’ inclusion of the pressures many teenagers feel today… wait a second—now that I think about it, the characters in the The Breakfast Club face the same challenges. Let me chart this:

One of Us is Lying 
Nate (the criminal) – absent and junkie mother, drunk father 
Cooper (the athlete) – pressure from father to win in baseball 
Bronwyn (the brain) – pressure from parents to get good grades/attend Yale
Addy (the beauty) – rich, absent parents; pressure to maintain popularity
Simon (the outcast) – doesn’t feel like he fits in anywhere

The Breakfast Club
John (the criminal) – drunk and abusive father
Andrew (the athlete) – pressure from father to win/be the best wrestler
Brian (the brain) – pressure from parents to get good grades
Claire (the beauty) – rich, absent parents; pressure to maintain popularity
Allison (the basketcase) – feels unwanted

Besides the adjective switch from “basketcase” to “outcast,” which I would venture to guess was changed due to PC sensitivities, and that Cooper’s character also struggles with his sexuality and homophobia, the characters’ backstories remain the same. The fact that high school hasn’t changed over the past twenty-five years is, to say the least, quite disheartening. Perhaps, then, the takeaway isn’t so much that the narrative is the same, but that it hasn’t changed. But we don’t have space for a long-winded debate on the education system right now. Some other time. 

The novel closes with yet another nod to The Breakfast Club after Nate shows up to Bronwyn’s piano performance, and they part ways with one smiling glance back at each other that says, despite their family lives and previous clique affiliations, they will stay together; it’s the equivalent of one final fist pump in the air—cue Simple Minds. 

What did you think of the review? Leave a comment below. 

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