One of Us Is Lying by Karen M McManus

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One of Us Is Lying by Karen M McManus

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Stephen Leach
Reviewed by Stephen Leach
Summary: A deft, twisty murder mystery set in the corridors of an American high school.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: June 2017
Publisher: Penguin
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0141375632

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'The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars?' Sign me up, please. But this YA mystery is more like a teenage Agatha Christie: it's twisty, complex, and at several points I began to wonder if the final reveal would be that everyone was the murderer.

It opens with five high school students entering a detention together, each of them insistent that they didn't commit the wrongdoing they are being punished for. Unexpectedly, things take a turn for the worse, and only four of them leave the room alive…

As ever with these sorts of stories, there's a fair few stock characters present (the nerd, the jock, the rebel, the prom queen); a fact which the doomed Simon even points out before he bites the dust. What's interesting, though, is how McManus plays around with these archetypes as soon as we get to know them, consciously avoiding making them too predictable or clichéd. To her credit, it's not only the main four characters who are interesting – there's a whole array of side characters I wanted to see more of, so much so that I half wondered if this book was going to lead into a sequel so that there'd be more room to tell everyone's story. In fact, if a sequel were to be announced, I'd be interested just for that reason: by the end of the novel, all the characters – even the peripheral ones – feel a hundred miles from where they started off, and I felt like I wanted to know what happens to them all next.

The other interesting thing about this book is that most stories set in high school are usually from the point of view of the loners and the geeks. Here it's (mostly) the jocks and the popular kids that get the focus. This makes the mystery feel organic and credible – since it's made clear Simon was something of a social outcast, there's no reason why any of the popular kids should know the first thing about him: even Bronwyn, the lone voice of geekdom, was way above him socially.

It's things like this that make you realise how much perception and context influence a story. Simon feels more and more odious the more we learn about him, and I didn't feel any sense of regret or sympathy for his death: if there'd been context from a character who knew him better, might I have empathised with him more? Despite this, I was still desperate to know who was behind his death. I changed my mind a few times until finally I was convinced I had it right, but ultimately ended up suspecting the wrong person – and like all good twists, the answer was right there in plain sight.

Certain types of readers like certain types of stories, and there are probably a lot of people who might not be interested in this sort of book purely because of the setting. There came a point for me, undoubtedly, where I began to feel like stories set in high schools no longer held much relevance for me. But the summary hooked me in, and I'm glad I let it. One of Us Is Lying is a smart and intricate mystery I finished in less than twenty-four hours, and for that alone, it gets five stars from me.

If you're into YA, I would recommend The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner. Or if you're in the mood for another thriller, why not try The Death House by Sarah Pinborough?

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Buy One of Us Is Lying by Karen M McManus at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy One of Us Is Lying by Karen M McManus at


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