One of Us is Next

Having polished off One of Us is Lying in one night, the impossible mystery and desperate characters hooking me in, I was only excited when I heard the announcement of its sequel. With a slightly cringe blurb and fear that nothing could live up to the hype, I was relieved to find One of Us is Next just as captivating.

Bayview High welcomes the return of its students after a year of speculation and investigations into the death of a student. With the truth about Simon’s tragedy out Maeve, sister to murder suspect Bronwyn, knows more than anyone the toll last year had on Bayview’s targeted students and sees the danger more than anyone in the popular Truth and Dare game that suddenly surfaces. The first round reveals a shocking truth that destroys popular student Phoebe’s life. The second convinces Bayview the game is harmless. The third proves it’s not. The final play will end the game. But as Maeve steps closer to uncover the shocking truth the game turns on her, revealing it’s not just Phoebe’s life the truths can destroy. But Truth or Dare may be covering up something far more sinister than rumours and secrets as Bayview discovers once again that everyone has something to hide.

One of Us is Next presents three protagonists and narratives: Maeve, Knox and Phoebe. Maeve is Bronwyn’s sister, a protagonist from One of Us is Lying now known as one of the “Bayview Four” after the media scandal a year ago. It’s through Maeve readers see a window into the old protagonists lives while still focussing on the current plot. Having grown up with leukemia Maeve struggles to let herself be loved and merely touches the surface of school drama and social circles: always unconsciously believing her cancer will return and not wanting to say goodbye. Her character development is pivotal to the novel as she slowly let’s others in and her narrative is from the unique perspective of someone who has seen the damage gossip did to her sister last year, leaving her with little time or respect for the Truth or Dare game.

Phoebe is popular and attractive. Believing herself to be an open book she is shocked to find herself the first target of the Truth or Dare game and discovers the cruelty of game first hand. It is through Phoebe that McManus explores views of young women in society: from her pushy boyfriend to the slut shaming that follows her around school. The novel only touches upon this critical theme and fairly lightly delivered feminism that could have been explored more, but Phoebe’s ever growing character and social circle, from a kind hearted girl embarrassed to be seen with Knox to one who takes charge on a stake out presents critical changes. The novel suggests there is more to come from this young protagonists as she struggles through the desperate situation the Truth or Dare game places her in.

Knox, our final and only male protagonist, is another student at Bayview to be hurt by the Truth or Dare game. Ten years younger than his four older sisters Knox struggles growing up as nearly an only child, disappointing his father at not being the son he wanted and struggling to define his relationship with his only friend and former girlfriend Maeve. While his chapters focus on the drama unfolding at his school he also has a wider view of the world from his job at a charity law firm that offers representation to those the law often fails. From the pressures his family place on him he is struggling to work out where his interest truly lie and what sort of life he can see for himself after school, presenting key themes of toxic masculinity and the pressure young men feel in society. These critical themes are only lightly explored as his chapters focus on Knox’s character development leading to the novels dramatic ending.

Little world building is required in this novel as many settings are reused from One of Us is Lying, principally Bayview High and the town. The novel broadens somewhat as we see the café Louis works in take prominent feature but McManus’s writing style lends itself very little to development of the surroundings, rather focussing on her characters. The first person perspective and almost TV soap like fast paced dialogue and action is a staple of McManus’s work. The novel is quick to read and easy to digest, the slim book impossible to put down. Chapters are narrated from a first person perspective making the events of the novel and the effect it has on each narrator all the more weighted.

The plot felt more convoluted than McManus’s previous novels. Rather than centering on one mystery the novel explores different pathways, details that were often overlooked becoming important and clues being given to our protagonist rather than sought after. This meant the novel lacked direction and stability in places that the single murder investigation provided in One of Us is Lying. The intensity was somewhat missing and the haphazard display of clues, although intriguing, felt forced in places. Furthermore the pressure of a police investigation and the knowledge of imminent arrests would have given the events of One of Us is Next a more foreboding and urgent feel. Although less clear the novel did still contain the thrill of a mystery while developing key protagonists and subtly exploring crucial themes.

Accompanying the captivating plot the pace of the novel, following each clue and text, never slows. However the novel often presents a clue or hints at a revelation yet waits a few chapters before revealing this truth to the reader. This could be frustrating at times and this plot device felt overused: oftentimes the clue forgotten as the novel moves into different dialogue and the mystery lacking gravitas when it is finally revealed. The novel builds up to what the reader knows must be a murder yet it feels slower than One of Us is Lying, that commences with Simon’s death. This makes One of Us is Next slightly less exciting and it is occasionally confusing if the reader should worry about who started the Truth or Dare game given its lack of prominence among the other mysteries.

Romance has always been an element McManus keeps real, developing very real relationships at a time in our young protagonists lives that is so pivotal. Bronwyn and Nate, a couple central to One of Us is Lying, are shown to be struggling with long distance, a reality for many young couples who meet in secondary school but go to separate universities. The reality of making this work is craftily woven as the novel strives to avoid the toxic literature trope that relationships are easy after the initial steps of becoming a couple. Similarly, Cooper and his boyfriend struggle with deciding a future together based on their respective career prospects while still incorporating issues Cooper faces as an openly gay sportsman. Although both these relationships are not focal to the novel as it follows three new protagonists there feature and continued development is artfully crafted and their struggles dotted throughout the novel add a sense of reality to what could have become a simple staple from the previous novel.

One of Us is Next develops new relationships as well as building on those from One of Us is Lying. As Maeve slowly allows herself to make real connections with others the possibility of a relationship with Louis emerges. Louis serves a continual reminder to our protagonist that there is life after school and it is possible to live away from the toxic gossip Bayview High adores. This makes his character refreshing as McManus develops him past the jock and best friend to Cooper he was in the previous novel, his chemistry with Maeve is slow to appear as Maeve begins to allow herself an opportunity at love. McManus also takes care that her characters are in the right place to commit to relationships, showing maturity to her young readers. Phoebe hints throughout her narrative that Knox is more attractive than she cares to admit but when she attempts to start something Knox expresses that she’s not in the right place. Both mature and important the novel values consent and hints that these characters and their relationship will continue to develop, a refreshing feel.

Romance is not the only relationship explored in the novel. Maeve and Knox, formally a couple, present a unique platonic friendship between a female and male protagonist which is tested as the rumours slowly start circulating. The shift in their relationship dynamic is pivotal to the plot while still presenting something unique as they both demonstrate that their relationship is clearly just Friends, a dynamic rarely shown in YA. Knox’s relationship with his dad is similarly explored. As a builder his father struggles with having his only son interested in law and plays rather than sport and construction. As they both slowly accept Knox for who he is the novel follows a path which many teenagers can relate to as the pressure of parents looking for themselves in their children is common. Finally the relationship between Phoebe and her siblings is explored as they struggle to knit themselves back together after loosing their father. Although the rift is never fully healed the dynamic is well written and the observations between the various sibling dynamics in One of Us is Next is well presented.

McManus demonstrates to her teenage readers that there are many valid career paths one can take and that figuring out your life at eighteen is not always possible. This positive message is portrayed subtlety yet vitally throughout the novel: from Addy callous comments about not wanting to pay extortionate amounts for university when it might not be for her to Nate working his way up the construction company. Knox’s internship at a lawyers and Louis’s job in the family business serving as further examples of equally valid career paths. The novels exploration of our young protagonists lives and future is vital and it’s presentation of valid career choices is a positive message for anyone, especially in a judgmental society that sees university as the only option for success.

One of Us is Next contains less dark themes than One of Us is Lying. There is alcohol abuse, murder, death threats and loss of a family member. The target audience is likely sixth formers and older teens, the novel centering on students in their final year at school.

From the development of familiar tropes to realistic, fleshed out and captivating teenage characters that face common social pressures while solving impossible mysteries McManus’s tales never dissapoint. One of Us is Next is the sequel we didn’t realise we’d need but now know we love.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

One of Us is Lying

I don’t know what made me read this novel long into the night, curled up with it unexpectedly after work, sucked in so completely. Mystery isn’t my genre of choice, the characters were sold on their cliché traits and the simple writing style is very different to the long, beautiful prose I favour. But somehow, this simple almost trashy teen drama of a mystery had me hooked in a way I never expected.

Simon Kelleher’s gossip app is notorious. Never wrong, always cruel and often life destroying it’s creator is hated throughout Bayview High. But when the next four teenagers to be featured on the app wind up uncoincidently in detention with Simon, and leave distraught with his body on the floor, it’s obvious somebody killed him. A series of siniater Tumblr posts and a quick forensic investigation later and the suspicion of murder is confirmed. This just leaves the question of who did it, and why. Which of the four damaging secrets about to be released, bound to ruin the suspects lives, was dangerous enough to need to be hidden at such a high cost. When nobody steps forward as guilty the investigation is quick is take its toll, every decision and choice the suspects ever made coming into scrutiny, the Bayview High gossip mill as alive as ever.

Things’ll get worse before they get better.

The cliché teen stereotypes that form the basis of One of Us is Lying came to life under McManus’s careful hand. As the four narrators intimately take the reader through their personal lives, guiding the plot around the sinister events of the novel providing their individual, compelling and occasionally shocking monologues, the reader forms a gregarious and unreliable bond. Each chapter is narrated personally yet the reader is constantly left suspicious of each protagonist, looking for clues of a twisted personality that would murder a fellow high school student. As the investigation continues it becomes clear that Simon’s death not only effects each of the individuals situations but also shapes their characters during such a pivotal point in their young lives. This development felt fleshed out and artfully written as the social pressures of being a young student on the cusp of adulthood is explored throughout the novel.

Addy begins the novel with no future other than to be her boyfriend’s wife. Dependent on Jake for her every decision, from what she wears to who she sees, urged on by a mother who projects an irrational fear of loneliness onto two young daughters, Addy’s life is constantly controlled. But with the help of the sister she never really befriended Addy begins to slowly take her life back, slotting in a personality she forced herself to keep hidden for so long. As she takes back her independence the reader follows her with equal parts relief and admiration for the kind, funny, loyal personality that slowly emerges after what can only be the most traumatic event of her life. Bronwyn, meanwhile, was always in control. Set on going to Yale and desperate to follow in her parent’s daunting footsteps she takes every opportunity to be front of the class, joining every club and volunteering for any committee. But when she suddenly comes under investigation for murder she begins to wonder if their are more important aspects to life than just good grades as the shocking mystery slowly helps Bronwyn appreciate values she’d always taken for granted: trust, loyalty and friendships.

Cooper, a handsome baseball star, is perfect in the eyes of Bayview High. Kind and generous, with a bright future and likable personality he has never featured on Simon’s gossip app. But when he’s hiding himself from everyone, even his own family, he fears the investigation will force him to take a step he doesn’t think he’s ready for and knows his family isn’t ready either. Nate, the final protagonist, looks the most guilty. Abandoned by two useless parents, struggling to pay bills and a step away from prison due to drug dealing, a job he can’t afford to give up even under such close police scrutiny, Nate is the most precariously placed of the four. Unable to afford an expensive lawyer and an obvious scapegoat for the others Simon’s murder could ruin his life. McManus addresses the complicated issues of class that flaw our legal system as Nate wavers close to a life behind bars in this compelling storyline. But as dark events lead to unlikely friendships Nate slowly learns to find the trust his parents robbed him off when they let him down, his character slowly shifting throughout the story.

The relationships portrayed in One of Us is Lying are complex and important. Realistic, honest and pronounced Macnus makes red flags a priority, striving to show healthy and strong partnerships, both same sex and not, that grow and develop each character. Most importantly she uses an unpopular but crucial trope: pointing out that it is ok to be single, proving not every character needs love to be happy and prioritising the importance of good friendships and reliable siblings. One of Us is Lying promotes these important values as each protagonist learns and grows, developing and flourishing as they are continuingly surprised by the well developed and complex array of personalities that surround this tale. Relationships remain at the heart of this novel as McManus subtely develops the friendship between the ‘murder four’, expertly weaves complex and defining romance subplots, and centres on the composite relationships between parents, their children and their siblings.

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

Similarly to popular novel, An Inspector Calls, One of Us is Lying calls on its readers to consider their impact on those around them, no matter how insignificant their actions may appear. As each character considers their motives throughout the novel complex themes of guilt and responsibility are explored. It begins to dawn on each protagonist the snowball effect even the slightest action can have on those around them. This profound realisation is projected onto the reader as they follow the twisted events of this case, exploring the motives and meanings behind each event. Slowly each character shows remorse in their own way, growing from the traumatic experience and developing through these personal reflections and revelations.

One of Us is Lying holds a complicated and mysterious plot. With narrators the reader is continuingly trying to judge, following complex and unexpected turns in a sinister plot, the reader is dragged into Bayview High at its worse. The focus on the four protagonists as they navigate teenage adolescence with a murder charge hanging over their heads holds a strong and gripping storyline interwoven artfully throughout the tale. The premise behind the plot could have felt stale, the app feeling akin to the popular TV show Gossip Girl, even down to the snarky tone of its creator. However the murder mystery aspect was new to the YA genre and the plot felt authentic. With unexpected events continuely cropping up and the mysterious undertones of a murder mystery ever present the reader is gripped from the very first word.

I guess we’re almost friends now, or as friendly as you can get when you’re not one hundred percent sure the other person isn’t framing you for murder.

The pacing, similarly, is well done. With the on going murder investigation the pacing never lags, new evidence often coming to life as the relentless Bayview High gossip mill persists despite Simon’s death. With dark undertones following each protagonist, the reader constantly guessing who is capable of murder as they read each potentially unreliable narrative, the novel is gripping and compelling from its beginning.

The setting for this novel was not just Bayview High, the scene of the murder and the school each protagonist attends. The novel centres on our leads home lives, describing Addy’s toxic household, Nate’s run down, unlocked building, Cooper’s modest family home and Bronwyn expensive mansion, complete with a home cinema. These settings reflect both the characters wealth but also their complicated upbringings, bringing to the reader’s attention the struggles that persist equally in families of all classes.

The writing style of One of Us is Lying is uncomplicated and engaging. Easily digestible and accessibly written the descriptions are brief and simple, the authors focus on content not describing the surroundings. This almost trashy feel makes the story easy to fall into and gripping to read, each chapter encompassing a wealth of facts and feelings while never overloading the reader or presenting dense prose. This unusal and simple style works well, the entire targeted perfectly at what can be assumed is it’s teenage audience.

The target audience for this novel would be older teens, in the last few years of school, although it’s lessons are important for any reader. The characters are a year away from university during the events of the novel and the target audience would most likely be in a similar demographic. Their are darker themes in the novel: murder, trauma and suicide, although nothing is gruesomely detailed. It is most definitely a mystery and never strays into the horror genre.

One of Us is Lying is a gripping YA novel, centering on four complex protagonists and portraying important and underrepresented themes in its demographic. With a captivating plot and enchanting characters it is a quick and entertaining read.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐/5