I read this for the 4-MA Reading group (mysteries) discussion. The story concerns a high school student’s death by peanut – he’s deliberately poisoned. I rarely read Young Adult books, but once in a great while one comes along and for one reason or another I enjoy it. This is definitely YA and I would never have read it on my own, but I liked it. I’m not sure it’s all that “good” but the nicely drawn and likeable characters drew me in like a mom.
One of Us is Lying
by Karen M. McManus
2017/ 361 pages
read by a small cast
rating: A / YA crime
First off, more than one of them is lying here – clever title though – it fits on several levels.
Cooper, Nate, Bronwyn, and Addie are seniors at Bayview High School located east of San Diego. One day during an apparently set-up detention another boy, Simon, suddenly dies due to an allergic reaction to peanut oil which was in a cup he used for water in the classroom.
Alternating sections focus on the story of a single 1st person narrator – one of the teens – and their relationship to what happened on September 24 – when Simon drank the peanut oil while in detention with kids who were tricked into having to be there. The story goes on from there for the following several months.
Adelaide Prentiss is a bright and extraordinarily pretty prom queen type, a generally good girl who is dating a guy named Jake. Her mother is involved in serial marriages and Addie might be heading that way herself. Lots of pressure on her.
Cooper Clay is a baseball hero being scouted by the minor leagues. He’s officially dating Keelie, but there are other girls hanging around. Lots of pressure on him.
Bronwyn Rojas is very well behaved and very smart, from an upper class home – aiming at Princeton so she never breaks the rules. She’s also a very talented musician. She has younger sister who is, or has been, extremely ill and this drives Bronwyn to succeed. Lots of pressure on her.
Nathan McCauley is pathetically poor with problem-parents and at school he is kind of an outcast – partly by his own choice. He’s on probation for dealing drugs. He looks like he’ll be the scapegoat. Lots of pressure on him and no support.
Simon Kelleher seems to have been an angry young man who collected gossip and rumors about people and built an app to send info to his classmates. What he says is generally true and kids can have very serious problems because of what he says about them. He had been a popular kid until the last year or so when his app got the others scared of him. The big problem is that everyone has secrets and some of the kids need to stay transparently above-board to get what they want.
The first four kids are definitely suspects in the murder of the fifth and the cops want one of them to break under the pressure and confess. And then there’s the media – television, the internet, Twitter, etc.
And … between all the pressures and the resolution of the crime, a bit of romance pops up and it’s done very, very sweetly – normally I would hate that part, but I don’t at all – not with this book. I think it’s because the characters are so lovingly drawn.
The structure is interesting – with each teen getting a 1st person portion of each chapter. Some sections overlap in terms of time frame so, for instance, we see Nate at Bronwyn’s house from her point of view in one chapter and from his point of view in the next. McManus does a nice job of smooth tension building using almost no foreshadowing. but plenty of cliff-hanger chapter endings. There are also a few juicy and unexpected twists.