Review: Karen M. McManus ‘One Of Us Is Lying’

Five students enter detention; only four walk free. There’s a murderer on the loose in this page-turning thriller and the search for the culprit proves nothing is ever as it seems.

Five students enter detention; only four walk free. There’s a murderer on the loose in this page-turning thriller and the search for the culprit proves nothing is ever as it seems.

Karen M. McManus’ One Of Us Is Lying hadn’t previously been on my radar before it caught my eye recently in a bookstore, but thankfully, I made the decision to pick it up that day. If there’s anything I always love to read, it’s a quality edge-of-your-seat thriller. The second I read the blurb of this novel, I knew it was going to earn a steady rotation in my collection of re-reads.

One Of Us Is Lying takes place in a setting that’s strikingly familiar for fans of John Hughes’ films, but the connection to The Breakfast Club takes a strong detour with one important distinction: this detention ends in murder. The geek, the jock, the criminal, and the princess are the only ones to leave detention with their lives, rendering the mysterious circumstances surrounding gossip guru Simon’s death in the classroom the focus of a major police investigation. The suspects? The four students who were the last to see him alive.

Told from four alternating perspectives, One Of Us Is Lying follows the lives of Bronwyn (the high-achiever), Nate (the delinquent), Cooper (the sports star), and Addy (the prom queen) as they attempt to unravel what really happened in detention that day. As the pressure increases, we witness these characters reveal their true selves and draw closer together despite – and because of – their differences.

What is most remarkable about the characters in this novel is how utterly real they are. In spite of what their stereotypes would suggest, there is more to these students than what meets the eye – a lesson we need to remind ourselves of more than ever in today’s society. While someone may be a prom queen on the outside, their life may not be as picture perfect as it seems. Behind the glitz and glamour, they are a person with thoughts and feelings, battling against hardship and uncertainty. They’re more like you than you realise, and that sentiment rings true in this novel. Each of the four students has a secret they’re withholding, resulting in the kind of internal battles that will resonate strongly with anyone who reads their story.  

I found Addy’s character to be especially important in terms of character development. Her story touches on the difficult issue of a toxic relationship, and we’re fortunate enough to witness her journey back to finding herself. Addy shows us that it’s never too late to take a stand for what’s right, even if choosing to do so isn’t always easy. It’s a great example of the kind of characters and relationships that stand out in One Of Us Is Lying, ones that are more than superficial representations of people. There is an undercurrent of realism to every passage in this novel, and that’s what makes it so striking.

It’s never easy to write something that deals with heavy themes, but McManus navigates this tricky territory with care and an insight that is utterly refreshing to read. Each character is a looking glass into teenage lives, an introspective take on a young person’s worries and regrets, their struggles and dreams. Hearing their stories as told through their own voices is an especially important part of the novel, lending an air of authenticity authors can’t always achieve with just one point of view. The changing perspectives are crucial to conveying how each unique individual reacts to extremely extenuating circumstances. Switching between the four POVs is seamless, a feat that is remarkable considering this can often be an arduous exercise.

Of course, there is very little I can say about the outcome of the murder-mystery without spoiling the novel, but I’ll leave you with this: you won’t see it coming. That’s the beauty of a true thriller, and One Of Us Is Lying absolutely nails it. You’re kept turning pages well into the night, which is the number one thing you hope for in a quality mystery. And when it’s a novel as fantastic as this one, would you really have it any other way?

Rating: Not for me | Solid read | Would read again | Exquisite

One Of Us Is Lying is available now via Penguin Random House.

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