Book Review: One of Us is Lying


Cover of the novel One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus. Photo courtesy of Olivia Bryan

Olivia Bryan

These days many of us feel overwhelmed by the events happening around us. One way that people can unwind and not worry about the uncertain is by reading. A good book should be able to distract you from whatever troubles you’re facing in your life. One of Us Is Lying accomplishes this. The New York Times best-selling novel One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus follows four teenagers at the fictional Bayview High School near San Francisco, California. These four teenagers, Bronwyn Rojas, Addy Prentiss, Nate Macaulay, and Cooper Clay, are accused of a fellow student’s death after he has an allergic reaction in detention and dies not too long after. As it turns out, the day after he died, Simon Kelleher was planning to release secrets about his four classmates that had been in detention with him the previous day. As the events unfold, it becomes more and more clear that each of these students had motives to kill Simon off, but is it enough to frame them for his death? Or is there something more sinister happening under the surface of the case?

One of Us Is Lying is McManus’s first novel, but you would never be able to tell. The way the story is laid out and the complexity of the characters give the feeling of a more experienced writer. While the main characters may seem like high school stereotypes at first, as the story progresses you see that they are more complicated and life-like. McManus touches on this in One of Us Is Lying – An Interview With Karen McManus. In this interview by Tabitha Lord of Book Club Babble, Lord talks to McManus about her success with One of Us Is Lying. One quote from McManus comes after Lord’s question to her about these stereotypes. McManus replies, saying that “the world constructs so many artificial barriers between people based on surface impressions and narrow definitions”. She goes on to say that despite this, “that public face is never the sum total of any individual.” Teens in books and TV shows are often just hollow shells of what middle-aged writers think teenagers are like nowadays. But McManus breaks down these stereotypes and gives her characters hopes and dreams and secrets, just like regular teenagers.

Senior Precious Sesay was inspired to read the book after seeing a book review of it on YouTube. She said that she “typically like[s] these kinds of book[s]” and that “mystery is usually [her] favorite genre.” One of Us Is Lying has everything that one might want from a mystery: death, deception, and suspense. It has plot twists at every end, yet they never get old. McManus finds ways to keep the reader’s intrigue and make sure that they never guess what will happen next. Sesay also mentions that she liked how “the book explored so many different subjects about teenagers while also developing the characters as teenager[s].” She went on to say that she felt like “they were relatable people even though they were going through a tough situation.” This is definitely true of the book because while most people may not be able to relate to the main plot of being framed for murder, the main characters are still teenagers and have some of the same problems as many people do today. The way McManus shaped the characters and gave them unique voices with different perspectives echoes the reality of being a teenager today. Not only is the book entertaining and suspenseful, but it’s also relatable to all different kinds of people.

Junior Caroline Lehman says that she generally looks for “a good story, enticing characters, and plot.” One of Us Is Lying has plenty of those things. ‘Good’ may be subjective but both the plot and characters are well developed. Lehman also mentioned that “[m]ultiple narrators are always super interesting to [her] because they don’t happen too often.” One of Us Is Lying has four different narrators, one for each of the main teenagers, and each part is in the first person of whoever is narrating at the moment. The different viewpoints allow the reader to see how each of the characters is reacting to and coping with the situations they are in, especially since you get to see the first-person point of view of each character. These unique viewpoints enhance the story and, the way McManus does it, give the reader enough information while also obscuring some from them to maintain suspense and intrigue throughout the story. Lehman also said that she “likes books that keep [her] guessing and on the edge of [her] seat” but also that sometimes “predictability is comforting”. One of Us Is Lying has more than enough suspense and unpredictability, but some moments are more familiar and somewhat comforting. Fans of mysteries but also young adult books in general will find something in this book that speaks to them.

One of Us Is Lying is an excellently written and executed novel and it gives something to everyone who reads it. McManus’s style as a writer pulls you in and doesn’t let you go throughout the book. For mystery fans, this book has all of the elements of a good mystery: it shocks you and makes you think twice. And even if it isn’t your typical style, there’s something overall relatable about the book, which is one of the things that makes it so great. Since her first novel, McManus has published three more books. Two Can Keep a Secret and One of Us Is Next, the sequel to One of Us Is Lying, are just as well-written as her first novel. She also recently released a third novel, titled The Cousins. According to her website, McManus is also planning on releasing another novel, You’ll Be the Death of Me, in December of 2021. All three of McManus’ books are available to PGCPS students as ebooks via the Sora app, and each are in print at the ERHS’ library. One of Us Is Lying is the perfect book to distract yourself from the world we live in now, and, even when our lives are (somewhat) back to normal, it’s an amazing read.