One of Us Is Lying is a clever YA mystery by Karen M. McManus. It starts with five teenagers headed to detention after school. By the end of detention, one of the five is dead, and the other four all have a motive for wanting him gone. Which is the murderer, and can the ones not responsible clear their names?
The victim is Simon Kelleher,, who runs an app called About That. About That posts gossip from around Bayview High. It has a nasty tone and is never wrong. Simon is the most hated person at Bayview, but nobody dares tell him to his face for fear of ending up on the app.
The other four each had a secret and were going to be named, for one reason or another, in Simon’s next post. It turns out, for example, that Bronwyn, on track to be the class valedictorian, cheated her way through chemistry the year before. Cooper, a star baseball player, has been using steroids so he can impress the scouts coming to his games. Addy, a pretty airhead who’s dating the football team’s handsome running back, recently had too much to drink at a party and slept with another boy. Finally, Nate was recently arrested for selling black market painkillers, and is breaking the terms of his probation by still selling pot around school.
The circumstances of Simon’s death are highly suspicious. All five students are in detention due to Mr. Avery, who has a strict no-phone policy, finding cell phones in each student’s bag during class. During detention, there’s a car crash in the parking lot, drawing Mr. Avery out of the room. While he’s gone, Simon, who’s allergic to peanuts, drinks water from a cup that’s been coated with peanut oil. Unfortunately, his epi pen is not in his backpack, nor are the epi pens in the school nurse’s office where they’re supposed to be, and Simon chokes to death.
Did one of the four commit the murder? They were the only ones in the room, so the killer had to be one of them, right? Each proclaims his or her innocence, but as the title says, one of them is lying. The case is complicated when new posts keep appearing on Simon’s app, apparently written by the killer and taunting the police. Also not helping is the fact that the national news media have latched onto the sensational murder and investigation, turning the lives of the four suspects and their families upside down.
The book reminds me of a twisted version of the movie The Breakfast Club. In that movie, five students who would never socialize with each other in the hallways or cafeteria during the school day get to know each other during an all-day Saturday detention. One of Us Is Lying has a similar vibe, as the four suspects have little in common but find themselves forced into a friendship when their old friends drop them, and because nobody else can understand what they’re going through.
I found the book highly entertaining, and McManus did a great in introducing a new clue or twist in nearly every chapter, so that the reader’s suspicion constantly shifts from one of the students to another. Or maybe it was the teacher? Or one of the many other students at Bayview who had fallen victim to Simon’s gossip app? Perhaps the girl who had wanted to date Simon but who he’d never had time for? This book is highly recommended for high schoolers or adults who think that sort of mystery sounds like fun. (Warning: Younger readers may find the book’s frequent references to teen sex and drug use too mature.)