Ben Reviews: One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

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One of Us Is Lying is a predictable, trope-laden, YA, American high school crime drama. I absolutely loved it. To be fair, though, I’m a bit of a connoisseur of such things. Karen McManus relies on so many tropes and cliches that it is not an exaggeration to say that once I had read each character’s perspective for the first time, I knew exactly who had done it. I knew what each of the characters’ secrets would be, and I knew what each of the characters’ endings would be.

While I do place a high value on originality and experimentation in art, I have to admit that I still tap my foot and sign along to a well-executed four-chord pop song from time to time. The tropes are tropes for a reason: they work. I don’t sense in Karen McManus’s writing any pretensions to her work being high art whose meaning learned scholars should debate alongside Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle.

What McManus constructs is a well-paced, well-written variation on the American high school television drama. Bayview is a land of house parties, drug use, sex, and drama that wouldn’t feel out of place in the worlds of 90210, Dawson’s Creek, Riverdale, or any of a dozen other soap operas for “young” people. Like those shows, the relationship to reality is close enough to suspend disbelief for a time, but not so accurate that I ever experienced much tension about the main mystery. The real tension comes from whether or not Nate and Bronwyn can make it work. Will Addy be able to overcome her unhealthy relationship with her controlling boyfriend? Can Cooper crawl out from underneath the weight of his father’s unhealthy expectations?

I can totally understand readers being bored by this, especially if they were expecting a serious murder-mystery. If bad/misleading marketing were a sin, most books would rate pretty low (well, lower…) for me. When taken for what it is, I think One of Us Is Lying is a fun ride.


Content and Ideas 3/5: The ideas and plot are well developed, but very unoriginal. From the moment the victim died I knew exactly who did it. The book even advertises itself describing certain characters by their trope (Jock, Geek, Druggie, etc). As much as I may personally like the book, I have to acknowledge that very little attempt was made to do anything new in this one.

Organization 4/5: This is the sort of book that could very easily outstay its welcome or fail to stick the landing. Instead, it was well-paced and the ending was satisfying. With that said there is room for improvement. In the 100-pages or so certain side characters become very important without much foreshadowing. Certain pieces of evidence take so long to examine properly that it is difficult to suspend disbelief. These are minor gripes, in my opinion, but enough to make me feel that a 4 is generous and a 5 is out of the question.

Use of Language 4/5: I’m grading this on a slight curve because I went into this prepared for some serious “How do you do, Fellow Kids” and was pleasantly surprised. I feel that each of the characters use vocabulary and speak in a way that distinguishes them without going overboard. Considering McManus’s reliance on common tropes, this restraint is refreshing.

Personal Preference 5/5: I genuinely enjoyed reading this book. I looked forward to my reading sessions with this book. I’m a sucker for this sort of drama. I know it is unrealistic and problematic, but I don’t care. I like a trashy novel every now and then. It reminded me a lot of the Scream movies. I appreciate in those movies how the characters quickly overshadow the horror.

Recommendation Strength 4/5: I think with the appropriate expectations, this book is a lot of fun. I do understand that this sort of soap opera, cliched, melodrama is not everyone’s cup of tea, though. I think it has more broad appeal than many books we read, but it certainly isn’t something that I think everyone needs to check out.


I co-host the Words About Books podcast with my writing partner Nate.

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