One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus: A Quick Read That’s Actually Believable

One of Us Is Lying | Author: Karen M. McManus | Genre: YA Mystery, Fiction

Hardcover: 416 pages | Publisher: Delacorte Press (May 30, 2017) | ISBN: 1524714682

Rating: 4/5

“I know what it’s like to tell yourself a lie so often that it becomes the truth.” 

A gossip app. An unlikely bunch of people in the same room. A death. Surprising friendships, breakups, and hook ups. And people searching to clear their name, even when it means admitting to the secrets they thought would stay buried. Karen M. Manus, in her YA Mystery One of Us is Lying, weaves high school stereotypes into a surprising story of belonging, changing, and fessing up by way of a framed murder.

When a group of students are put into detention, they think their biggest problem is proving to the teacher why they aren’t supposed to be in there and how there’s been a mistake. They have no idea that in minutes, when the creator of a rank student body gossip app, Simon, falls over dead, they will become murder suspects attempting to prove to the law and the watching world that they didn’t do it.

The only problem is that the law is determined to prove one of these kids guilty. And the media eats the case, following the kids around and updating the world on the latest happenings in the case without regard for what might actually be true.

Also. As if warding off the media and fighting the justice system isn’t challenging enough, high schoolers are mean and these murder suspects have their peers to deal with too, so there’s that.

You think that throughout the story you are reading about kids solving a murder. And you are. But what you are truly uncovering in this tale is people owning up to the truth, falling in love, and dealing with the firsthand sting of the media and how crazy the public is for a juicy story.

As with any YA thriller, I often find myself thinking while reading, “Okay, but would this really happen? Also, how old are these kids anyways? Because this is not what my life looked like at 18.”

I usually expect that in this genre. For the sake of keeping the pages turning, I can look past that. I can put my creative hat on, and play along with the author’s story; I was happy to do that for One of Us is Lying. The story felt more believable than others I’ve read.

Although I didn’t particularly feel connected to some of the characters and some moments that were supposed to be monumental felt unsurprising, I found this book to be a low stakes, easy read. There’s nothing too heavy – well, other than solving a murder – being dealt with, and you know, life is hard enough. Sometimes I just need a page turning story to follow without much thought.

Certainly, if you wanted to heavily discuss socio-economic status and the justice of the law, there are plenty of conversations that you could start using this book. However, I took this opportunity to read a story and to make a few quick points about life in the 21st century.

“She’s a princess and you’re a jock,” he says. He thrusts his chin toward Bronwyn, then at Nate. “And you’re a brain. And you’re a criminal. You’re all walking teen-movie stereotypes.” 

Each character enters the story with a predictable caricature. It’s the same ole’ status quos we’ve been simplifying the high school experience into for decades. But as we dig a little closer, we see that there’s more to everyone than their positions and titles. And even further, we find that everyone has lied in some way to get and maintain their placement.

It’s interesting how willing we are to live in the darkness of a lie we’re not even happy about, when walking  in the light of the truth produces within us a richness we would have wanted sooner.

But I have to say: each of these kids, from the princess down to the criminal, own up to their story. They do. When their hiding is exposed, they take it. Honestly, I think that was the most surprising part of the story because I only recall a handful of people in my own life with that kind of integrity.

When they fessed up, they changed. They weren’t bound to their lies anymore, but were placed fully in the open where they were free and had nothing left to lose. Not even their reputation, and to hell with it anyway. Once they had the guts to leave the relationship or admit how they really got the passing Chemistry grade, they were formed into a bolder, more honest, more intriguing version of themselves.

No one is perfect, and things begin to change once we believe that. Not only of others, but of ourselves too. (Also, side note, the criminal was the most honest guy in the whole story. Take that for what you will.) 

“I stand and hold out my hand. She gives me a skeptical look, but takes it and lets me pull her to her feet. I put my other hand in the air. ‘Bronwyn Rojas, I solemnly swear not to murder you today or at any point in the future. Deal?’
‘You’re ridiculous,’ she mutters, going even redder.
‘It concerns me you’re avoiding a promise not to murder me.” 

Okay, the love story. The classic rich girl falls for the poor boy tale. The one where she stays up late on the phone when she should have been studying, and he stops selling drugs. I’m really doing it an injustice because it’s way more adorable on the pages.

It’s an innocent love story between two murder suspects, and I couldn’t get enough of it. Manus keeps it clean, and uses the two to help each other grow out of who they thought they had to be. I appreciated that.

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

It’s, like, really freaky how much we lean on the media to give us the truth today. We esteem it and follow it, as if it can do no wrong. But as Manus shows us, it can do so much wrong. For starters, it followed these kids around. Reporters waited after school and surrounded their homes. And for what? To get the latest report on a story? A story that people attached to, and treated like a reality show? Not cool.

And the fan base. Oh, my word. The public following the media reports were taking sides and picking teams of who they thought the murderer was. Suddenly these kids had fan pages on Facebook, and had to stay away from Twitter to avoid people’s comments.

It was like everyone watched a 5 minute report, and were suddenly experts on the nuances of the whole case. Suddenly there was no regard for the humanity of the people involved, and the embarrassment, confusion, chaos they were feeling. There wasn’t substantial support or encouragement offered to the suspects. The case, as a group of kids fought for the truth to be found and to save any hopes for their future, became trivialized; the watching public waited to see who would fall next like it was some kind of TV show.

It’s a mirror to our society’s response to news today. We hear the news and genuinely believe that the media just wants to help us and help everyone. We do. We follow it. We worship it to the point that the implications of what we’re hearing is totally detached from what really happened, on the altar of being in the know and hearing a good story. We don’t even consider that what we believe might be wrong.

It’s not that we just form opinions about stories in the media, but we state those opinions like fact. And really, assuming that we could possibly grasp the whole story – with all its sides, humans, and moving parts involved – in a matter of minutes is the most prideful thing we could do.

I can barely remember to put on deodorant in the mornings, much less solves a crime case. One of is Lying reminded me to humble myself, and not assume I know everything when it comes to people and stories. What you see is not the full truth; everyone carries baggage that we might not ever get to see or understand.

Everyone is motivated by something, and this book shows us that some motivations are better than others. With all that said, don’t believe everything ya hear, kids.

And while you’re at it, go check on your people. You might think they’re okay, but they might be battling demons and need helping finding the light again. Be the light.