A review by nickoliver
One of Us Is Lying, by Karen M. McManus

mysterious tense medium-paced
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


I had picked up this book several times before, but I'd never really gotten far into it. I was also always very apprehensive of the story, because I'd heard beforehand a lot that McManus used mental illness and sexuality in quite problematic ways (
Spoilerthey were used as these shocking plot twists
). So when I finally mustered up the courage to finally read it in its entirety, I was a little bit afraid of what I'd encounter. And while I definitely have to agree with the reviewers who criticised McManus, at the end of the day, I still liked the book!

Let's talk about the good stuff first. The protagonists went through a lot of character development throughout the book. I wasn't really that big of a fan of the teenagers themselves, they could be fairly infuriating sometimes, but the way they improved over the course of the book spun my opinion around in the end. Especially Addy's transformation from a meek girl who let her boyfriend control every aspect of her life to a badass who knew what she wanted was a highlight for me.

Additionally, because the story was told from all four perspectives - Brownyn, Cooper, Addy, and Nate -, all of them were fleshed-out and a definite important part of the story. Admittedly, having all of their POVs did diminish the suspense a little bit, because it was made fairly obvious that none of them were the actual killer. But nevertheless, the mystery was still very intriguing for the most part and kept me on my toes.

Next up: the bad stuff.

While, like I said, I did end up enjoying the characters for the most part, I absolutely disliked the romantic story line between Bronwyn and Nate. Which isn't to say that it was the worst thing I've ever read! But from the very moment they each mentioned the other one, it was just so obvious that they were going to be a couple. It seemed very forced to me. Plus, the focus was way too much on the romance for a mystery book. Even the epilogue concentrated on Nate and Bronwyn, as if their relationship drama was the most important aspect I should be taking away from the story. Every time these characters talked or kissed or did anything couple-y, I wanted to roll my eyes and hit my head on the table. It didn't help that those scenes were written with a bit too much cheese. I had to suppress the impulse to skip all of the scenes where they were alone with each other.

Additionally, the character hardly ventured outside their prescribed stereotypes. Of course, they weren't one-dimensional, but apart from Addy, they were all still painfully identifiable as the brain, the jock, and the criminal. I didn't particularly like that.

Then we have the most important criticism of the book: McManus's reckless use of mental illness and sexuality as a means to shock her audience.

Personally, I found the mental illness one worse than the sexuality one; there was a character who ended up being revealed as gay, and I thought that there had been hints beforehand that that was their secret, so it didn't seem to me like being shocking had been McManus's intention in that regard. However, the character was outed against their will to the entire school by cops. Scenarios like that always make my anxiety shoot through the roof, seeing as I'm a closeted lesbian myself. I'm also just generally tired of the "a gay character is ashamed of their sexuality because of a homophobic environment but ends up getting outed to everyone before they're ready, anyway" angle.
Though I did appreciate that McManus criticised and challenged the forced coming out. That's usually missing from books that include this angle.

What was so despicable about the way the author used mental illness was the fact that she pretty much villainised it. 
SpoilerIt turned out that Simon had actually died by suicide and had planned to frame the other four for it because he despised them all for different reasons. He had had depression and had wanted to die, but because he felt he'd been unfairly treated by everyone else, he'd fantasised about some kind of school shooting, but one that differed from the usual "let's take a gun to school and shoot everyone". In the end, it felt like Simon being mentally ill was the main reason for his behaviour.
None of it was ever properly discussed and talked about by the other characters, which was extremely frustrating. Mental illness was just used as a cheap plot device, and it made me feel dirty and gross. It was such a horrifying way of revealing the truth.

Overall, while the mystery was intriguing for the most part and I liked getting to know the characters, I found the way McManus revealed the climax disgusting, to be quite honest with you. Plus, most of the characters weren't much more than their stereotypes; they were fleshed-out, but they also were always extremely easily identifiable as their respective stereotype. 

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