Part The Breakfast Club, part Agatha Christie locked-room whodunit, and a satisfyingly twisty mystery.
With a sequel, One of Us Is Next, having just been released, now seems as good a time as any to go back and appraise Karen M. McManus’s first Bayview High book, One of Us Is Lying. Combining the misfits-in-detention setup of John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club with a classic Agatha Christie-style locked-room whodunit, this is a YA novel that seems ripe for an adaptation, but also deserves some credit for its characterization, which keeps the mystery moving in sometimes unexpected directions.
The setup: Academic overachiever Bronwyn, all-star baseball prodigy Cooper, queen bee Addy and rebellious drug-dealing tearaway Nate all turn up in detention with Simon Kelleher, the school’s maligned and despised gossipmonger whose self-created app, About That, disseminates closely-guarded secrets about the students. Everyone has a reason to dislike Simon, and some arguably have cause to kill him, which is just as well — before detention is up, Simon has dropped dead, and the four survivors immediately become suspects in a case that captures public attention on a national scale.
The influences are obvious, and the provocative title and rotating POV chapters suggest multiple unreliable narrators. Each of the students has something to hide, though not necessarily just about Simon’s death. Relationships end and new ones are formed, secrets are revealed, backstories are better understood and add further context to the on-going investigation. Simon, despite dying at the book’s beginning, becomes a fully-fledged character in his own right, with more information about his exploits gradually being revealed and his few remaining allies campaigning to preserve what remains of his reputation.
While Karen M. McManus isn’t incapable of a surprising twist or a skillfully-deployed red herring, One of Us Is Lying succeeds on the strength of these characters and their personal journies. While all embody classic high-school archetypes at first, none remain so simplistic, and unlike many other stories about teenagers written by adults — I’m looking at you, John Green — this one features high-schoolers who talk, act, and think like high-schoolers. Imagine that.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.