Review: One of Us is Lying

3.5 out of 5 stars One of Us Is Lying, by Karen McManus (One of Us Is Lying #1)

It begins with Gossip Girl meets The Breakfast Club. Simon is Bayview High’s resident rumormonger – he runs a blog that dishes all the dirt on his fellow students. One day, Simon reports for detention with four unlikely classmates (the quintessential yearbook superlative gang): the brain, the beauty, the jock, and the criminal. They were all caught by the same teacher for the same infraction of having a cell phone in class – except none of them had ever seen these phones before. Something fishy is going on, but it’s not serious. Until, in the middle of detention, Simon dies. Now we’re in an Agatha Christie novel.

I never mind a writer starting off with someone else’s good idea, as long as they take it in their own fresh direction. McManus does that. She dives into the now-turned-upside-down lives of her cast, where each is unique and well defined. They have their own issues, and have been navigating the classic high school scene of hiding everything to appear perfect. When the police find that Simon had juicy, damning blog posts ready to go about each of his suspected killers, the screw turns.

I enjoyed this locked room mystery. Teens in realistic fiction are often unbearable, but McManus’ cast is straightforward, interesting and likeable – and they manage not to go off the rails with whiny angst and navel-gazing, despite all being suspects in a murder.

Realistic fiction is usually a little thin for me, as there’s not enough world building. I’ve been to high school, thanks. One of Us Is Lying takes place in a regular old school: no magic, no vampires, not set in the future. McManus does a solid job; she builds a mystery instead of a world. But ultimately, the mystery is the product of its world. A high school mystery about high school students is going to have high school motives. And those will probably only be high-school level important. McManus’ reveal has teeth, they’re just not quite sharp enough.

I actively try not to guess the twist in books and movies. (Maybe I’m choose to believe that because I’m too dumb to see them coming?) I’d rather let the story tell me . The best movies and books drop hints, and allow people to earn it: think of The Sixth Sense; of people gasping at different moments in the same scene as they got it. I wasn’t first, but I wasn’t last either. (Not so dumb, hopefully.)

So I didn’t guess the end of One of Us Is Lying. I mean, there aren’t that many options, and McManus spends enough time with each suspect to make you hope it’s not them. Ultimately the reveal is satisfying, and even a little surprising. But the motives remain things you’d look back on after college and cringe, knowing they were never very important.

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