One of Us is Lying

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus (Penguin, 2017) was my first read for the other Reading Challenge I signed up for. Must be the Year of the Reading Challenge or something. Another book that’s languished on my TBR for too long.

“Like we’re some kind of hip high school murder club without a care in the world.”

It’s promo-ed as The Breakfast Club with bonus murder, but after the detention these two diverge never to meet again. It’s more similar to The Yearbook Committee and Seven Ways We Lie, but oh so much better. And similar to How to Get Away With Murder, which I love.

“I don’t know why it’s so hard for people to admit that sometimes they’re just assholes who screw up because they don’t expect to get caught.”

And of course, I love an unreliable narrator. When I read Seven Ways We Lie, I felt like keeping the secrets the characters had wasn’t much of a lie. Reading One of Us is Lying I didn’t feel like this, even though all the characters lied about the secrets they keep. There were a whole lot of other lies going on too, so maybe that’s the difference.

“I have to keep reminding myself that we did not, in fact, conspire to commit murder.”

At first I vascillated between hating the cardboard cutout characters and admiring the meta-mind-bend of characters saying things like,

“It’s so stupid it wouldn’t even make a good movie.”

And that’s the point. They stop being tropes when they become real people. Seeing the story from each point of view enhanced this change. And as the story progressed they became more than their stereotype, with layers to their portrayal. Not always suprising layers (gay jock incoming) but developed none the less.

“I’m disappointing her right on schedule. Finally, something makes sense.”

Another fun trope – impoverished bad boy/ rich good girl. Am I remembering The Breakfast Club right? Or its opposite; but rarely poor bad girl/ rich good boy. Why is that? Not enough alliteration? Affluent characters are more prevalent in books, so I notice (and applaud) good portrayals of living with lower income.

“You know that’s a rich-girl problem nobody else cares about, right?”

Here comes the spoilers with a trigger warning. Stop reading if you don’t want the spoilering. And a pictorial interlude to break up the page. Click on the link if you want to get outa here to the TV series being made of One of Us is Lying.

One of Us is Lying

First spoiler: There’s a wide array to relationships and romance going on with the liars. Ending, never starting, maybe will only lead to friendship, etc. I got pretty antsy about the whole good girl/ bad boy fall in love, blah, blah, blah. But the change in Nate was gradual and more realistic for it. One night he and Bronwyn were talking on the phone and his hook-up texted. McManus could have him ignore Amber (he’s on his way to luuurve after all) but he says good-bye to Bronwyn and invites Amber over. She’s only ever a text Nate ignores or doesn’t, not because McManus is too lazy to flesh out her one dimensionality, but because she has nothing to do with the main plot. Nate isn’t hooking up with Amber because he’s a bad boy, but rather, she’s a part of his life. He doesn’t want a relationship and his friendship with Bronwyn takes time to become something else. Of course, it does.

“She’s a pain in my ass and I can’t remember why I wanted to kiss her so badly a few minutes ago.”

I really liked the normalizing of enjoyment of sex in both male and female characters. With a spectrum of never-had-sex-but-open-to-the-future-possibilty to sex with multiple partners causing problems. (Although these problems are not insumountable.) Nate and Bronwyn’s hot and heavy session which they stop by mutual agreement shows that interruption in the middle of arousal is fine and either partner can initiate the interruption.

Addy’s thread is masterful. Initially punished for liking sex “too much” but then rewarded with TJ wanting to pursue a relationship after a one night stand. The fact that Addy says not right now is empowering. A person who enjoys sex is allowed to take time out to enjoy her life without a partner. This variety in healthy sexual experiences is important for teenagers to read about and realise “just say no” is not the only option.

TW: Suicide

Onto the second spoiler: the big twist. There is no murder, Simon killed himself. There was a point when suicide nibbled at my thoughts, but then I forgot and went back to confusion. (I also thought no one ever would choose such a painful way to die.) I have difficulty reading about suicide and I’m always grateful for a trigger warning. So I have time to prepare myself or stop reading.

I had no trouble reading Simon’s masterplan – perhaps because it was so ludicrous. Initially when he died, this is what I thought:

I guess our omniscient narrator lucked out on a story arc. Will he start narrating from the afterlife? I could get on board with that.

My prescience really shines through. Later on when Maeve found the posts on that reddit thread or whatever it was, I wondered if they were from depressed Janae and she’d done everything. Yep, all over this guessing the plot twist thing!?

So anyway, the whole convoluted mess was cleverly surprising. And a show down in the woods!? Hilariously tropey, and the perfect denouement to this couldn’t possibly happen.

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