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#BookTok Review: ‘One of Us is Lying’ makes up for stereotypical characters with captivating plot

Clara Martinez
Exploring the lives of Mariam and Laila – two women in Kabul, Afghanistan – “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini tells a harrowing story of struggling to survive under the control of the Soviets and the Taliban. Despite being published 15 years ago, the book resurged in popularity with more than five million views under its TikTok hashtag.

One phrase continually used is the claim that “the book was better than the movie.” As I only compelled myself to experience this story through literature, I cannot be sure whether this rings true for “One of Us is Lying” by Karen M. McManus. But, the television adaptation’s premiere in October 2021 undoubtedly brought new popularity to the book as it gained over 265 million views under #OneofUsisLying on TikTok, despite being published in 2017. 

Chapter one begins with five high school seniors in detention. Only four stick around for chapter two. 

When one of the students in detention, Simon, suddenly collapses from an allergic reaction, the other four students in his company are the only logical suspects; crucially, preventative medication is absent from the nurse’s offices. 

One element of the novel that separates it from typical murder mysteries is the role of the victim, Simon. He writes regular blog posts exposing students at Bayview High with 100% accuracy, making him an outsider to his classmates. When rumors centered around Bronwyn, Addy, Cooper and Nate are discovered on Simon’s computer immediately following his death, his classmates are placed under speculation. They all have an obvious motive in wanting to prevent these rumors from being published. 

Photo used with permission from Delacorte Press

However, the plot picks up the pieces where the characters lack complexity. It is almost frustrating to recognize the brilliance of the plot and mystery when the characters are so stagnant in their roles. But, McManus undoubtedly delivers the definition of a page-turner with complex evidence and numerous reveals of the narrators’ secrets.

I thoroughly enjoyed the fast pace of the book, hopping between perspectives to give readers a chance to piece together the evidence themselves. Although the book can by no means be shelved next to an Agatha Christie thriller, “One of Us is Lying” holds its own against other young adult mysteries. Despite employing numerous clichés that appear in murder mysteries, this does not hinder the originality of the plot due to the unique setting in which teenagers are serving as both suspects and detectives.

The novel alternates between their perspectives. In each chapter, the label they have covertly been assigned becomes apparent: nerdy Bronwyn, homecoming queen Addy, athlete Cooper and drug dealer Nate.

It pains me to be able to pin each character to a single epithet, but this is where the characters stay boxed from start to finish, excluding Addy’s one rebellious hair cut. This proved to be an unfortunate weakness as these stereotypes dramatically increased the novel’s predictability. As the plot thickened, the characters became more one-dimensional and lacked any growth that would have added more intrigue to their individual storylines. 

It is equally comical and horrifying to realize that high school students are motivated more by the dissemination of their dating history than the death of a classmate.

Even the romantic subplot relied on the good-girl-paired-with-bad-boy trope. While my Netflix history proves that I would be a hypocrite to roll my eyes at romantic clichés, I can not help but point out the predictability of character development.

Relationships between characters and the importance they place on public image are prominent themes adding an innovative complexity to the novel. It is equally comical and horrifying to realize that high school students are motivated more by the dissemination of their dating history than the death of a classmate.

If you feel like re-entering the world of the teen flick, “The Breakfast Club,” but with a murder twist, make sure to add McManus’ novel to your shelf before your TikTok “For You” page spoils the mystery.

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About the Contributor
Clara Martinez
Clara Martinez, Editor-in-Chief
Clara Martinez (’24) is the Editor-in-Chief for The Standard. She began journalism as an editor of the Middle School newspaper The Scroll and joined The Standard in Grade 9. Martinez is drawn to investigative news stories and profiles, although she does enjoy producing the occasional broadcast or photo gallery. In or out of the newsroom, she can always be found with a pocket-sized notebook and pen in hand.

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