Review: One of Us is Lying
"You see us as you want to see us—in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain...and an athlete...and a basket case...a princess...and a criminal." - The Breakfast Club
What happens when you take The Breakfast Club (1985) and mix it with a closed door mystery? Well, you get One of Us is Lying. You get five kids serving detention and only four of them coming out alive. Nothing promises some good teen drama quite like mixing together kids from different cliques. Nothing promises a better puzzle than a closed door mystery. I think the idea to pair these two concepts is inspired and magical thinking.
This novel could have been so typical. I could have found myself bombarded by a surface look at teenagers with a side of murder, but McManus goes deeper than that. She explores the secret world of teenagers. She lays bear academic pressures, the desire to fit in, struggles with identity, entitlement, pack mentality, some of the many faces of abuse, and the secrets every child brings to school that are often at the heart of their bad days, apathetic performance, and social difficulties. McManus also touches upon instant and unwanted celebrity, media manipulation, and the way people can become their worst selves when given the concealment of screen names. We live in the age of people who are famous for the wrong reason, no reason, and reasons we can't begin to figure out. McManus packs so much into this incredibly fast and addictive read - I finished it in one sitting.
The novel has four first-person narrators:
Bronwyn - brainy, privileged, and uptight
Cooper - star athlete and all-around nice guy
Addy - lives for her boyfriend, friends, and social status
Nate - aloof parolee from the wrong part of town
There is also our victim, Simon. Simon is the honor student outsider looking for a way in. Simon never gets a chance to narrate, so we have to rely on the word of others to piece his character together. There is always a danger with multiple first-person narrators. My biggest fear is whether the author possesses the skill to distinguish one voice from another. I needn't have worried. McManus is absolutely up to the task. I didn't even need to read the chapter titles to know who was speaking. McManus worked it out like Tatiana Maslany on Orphan Black. I was relieved and impressed.
As a character driven reader I loved the way these characters were written. I will admit that I just about wrote Abby off, but she redeemed herself. I really liked these characters. I was invested and rooting for them. I wanted life to give them a break. Even though character development drives the plot that doesn't mean the mystery doesn't matter or takes a backseat. It never does. Admittedly, I figured out pieces of the mystery, but there were enough red herrings that I didn't put the entire puzzle together until near the end.
One of Us is Lying doesn't rely on the trappings of suspense to propel the reader through the story. It's these kids and the tangled mess of their lives. You want the mystery resolved in their favor, but the police are relentless, the ending is coated in tension, and you fear this won't end well for them.
Read One of Us is Lying. Find a place for it in your classroom library. Put it in the hands of your students. Do all of that before its discovered by Netflix and turned into the next must see show.