One of Us Is Next by Karen M. McManus
Overview: Bayview was rocked by Simon's death and his gossip app, but everyone thinks that things might be going back to normal until Truth or Dare gets texted to everyone's phones. The game offers players two choices- pick truth and have a secret of yours texted to the entire school or pick dare and be told what prank you have to pull. Pick dare because none of them are worse than the truths the anonymous texter possesses. He also seems to be targeting specific people at Bayview, Phoebe who is kind of a golden girl and is hooking up with the star football player on the down low, Brandon, that football player, Jules, Phoebe's best friend, Sean, Brandon's best friend, and Maeve, Bronwyn's younger sister who was involved in cracking the Simon case. When the game starts to move from extremely annoying to actually threatening, everyone involved is locked in a stand-still about how to confront the issue. And when Phoebe ends up with a stalker at her work, everyone realizes that the game might be leaving the virtual world. Overall: 5
Characters: 5 The book is done in a multi-POV fashion where we get to see the prospective of Maeve, Phoebe, and Knox with some random cuts of news footage thrown around. I like that this was how it was presented, and I like, for the most part, the characters that we were presented. I was taken with how realistic a lot of the decision making and motivation is. When they tell adults, and when they don't, about what happens feels perfectly in character. Each of these characters do rest on some amount of stereotypes, but I don't object to that. They're all played out in ways that feel authentic, because, sometimes, in high school you do play into traits that match your "archetype" and every character, even the most bland popular kids, have whispers of nuance that make them feel realistic.
I like that we got to see points of view from the characters we did. Phoebe seems somewhat removed from the Simon drama of last year but has been going through a lot with her family after her dad's death at the granite manufacturing plant. She's discontent with her life and using a lot of partying and finding new relationships to quell that. She has a great amount of self-awareness with what she's doing, which I appreciate. She also doesn't ever feel bad about it beyond the fact that she knows she's not dealing with her life. Phoebe really comes into her own throughout the book, but she also finds genuine friendships and connections. She deals with a lot of intense family stuff that's handled really well too. Her sister, Emma, who was always the shining child for her academic ability and straight-laced personality, starts to unravel and Phoebe tries to pick up the pieces while also trying to keep her brother, Owen, away from the difficult parts of family life.
Then there's Maeve who is the connection point to the previous book being Bronwyn's sister. She was also the most involved in the plot of the last story and more established. It's why she's the first to get most intensely involved with unraveling the Truth or Dare game. As for her own struggles, Maeve has been fighting Leukemia since she was very young and has relapsed before. Even though she's in remission, during the stress of the Truth or Dare game, she also starts experiencing the symptoms of last time the cancer had come back. She decides to try to ignore it because she doesn't want to bother her parents and sister. It's super misguided but articulated really well, and I love the scene where she comes to realize that she does need to ask for help and stop pushing everyone around her away.
Knox is our last point of view character, and he's on the outskirts of everything. He's Maeve's ex-boyfriend and best friend, and he's there to help them with the issues that they face. He's calm and the voice of reason in a lot of situations. I really enjoyed reading about his character and thought he was a great addition to the trio. He has a lot of conflict with himself about how his father sees him and about his personality and worth as a guy who isn't incredibly masculine. I love that in this arc, Knox doesn't feel bad about being in plays or not working at his dad's construction company because it makes him feel like less of a man but because he thinks his father sees him that way because of his dad's values. Knox doesn't feel that he's right, but he does want to make his dad see his worth in the things that he enjoys and how hard he works at his law firm internship. Seeing that relationship evolve was great.
As for the other characters, it feels like the best way to talk about them as a whole is with Cafe Contigo as a character itself. They all spend a lot of the time at the restaurant because a lot of the characters have jobs there. Phoebe is a waitress and so is Addy, who was a main character in the last book. I love how Addy has a bit about how it's okay to not know what you're doing immediately and not go straight to college. It doesn't mean that you peaked in high school. Then there's Luis, Cooper's former teammate, who's dad owns the restaurant. He helps at his family business while also working towards a hospitality degree. He gets involved with the investigation through his ties to Maeve who spends most of her life hanging out at the Cafe. Then there's Bronwyn and Nate who are on and off who make brief cameos here and there and Cooper who bonds the whole town together through his baseball career. There's a lot of characters, but they all manage to have a lot of dimension.
Plot: 5 I wasn't sure what to expect going into this book. I sincerely don't remember almost anything about One of Us Is Lying. I read it when it came out almost three years ago, and I've read a lot of books since. But I honestly don't super see how it's a sequel. It seems to fit better as a companion because there's some similar characters and the same setting, but the story feels basically unrelated. Which was good because I usually don't really like sequels because I feel like it's so hard to strike the right balance between old and new. Actually, from what I can remember, I like this book and this plot a lot more. I was sorta iffy on how things turned out with Simon, and I know there's been a lot of controversy on the appropriateness of some of the choices in that book, but this one didn't present any red flags to me. I also really like how so much of the book takes place outside of the high school and in the Cafe or at home. It gives the story a bit more room to breathe. I could not stop reading once I got about fifty pages in, and McManus did an excellent job of dropping hints and clues and cliffhangers to keep the reader motivated. I've been DNFing or taking weeks to read a book lately, but I finished this one in two days which felt amazing. It never felt like work to read.
As for the mystery sense, it strikes my favorite part of the thriller genre. I'm engaged and in it the entire time, but it never gets scary. It won't give you nightmares or bad thoughts. I also thought it was well plotted on when it drops the clues. It was page 313 when it clicked for me, but I think that's really when it was meant to. I like being able to solve the case before the book spells it out for you because then it makes more sense and feels more satisfying, but you won't be able to guess it too fast. There was also a twist on the last page that I thought was fun and added a layer of "wait, what?". The book comes to a conclusion that I think most people will find fitting for the story.
Writing: 5 I really really like McManus's writing style. I was a fan of One of Us Is Lying because it was so fast paced and engaging and a really well laid out mystery. I was a lot less of a critical reader back then, but I've seen plenty of backlash for the book on Twitter that I can see the merit in. I barely remember anything about the specifics of the book now, so I had to go read about it online. I wasn't sure whether I wanted to give the sequel another shot, and it's not like this book needs more attention, but I picked it up out of random curiosity and I was sucked in before I knew what was happening. I also was nervous about this one because I really disliked her second book, Two Can Keep A Secret because I couldn't get into the writing and the ending was such a letdown, but this sequel might be her best yet. Her style is so engaging and will keep you hooked. Beyond a hooky plot, each character is given so much depth that you're as invested in their growth and relationships as people as the murder plot. Even if you haven't read the first book, I think you'd be fine picking this up. She layers in the recapping and reminding so gently that it never gets annoying but you get a very full view of the town, the old characters, and the past trauma. I have to commend her for that.
Also, one of the issues a lot of people had with the first book, beyond the stuff with Simon's death, is that Simon and everyone involved with the revenge plot are the typical "loner" types. Like blaming the depressed or ostracized kid is not something I like promoting cause it's just a gross, annoying stereotype, and one of my biggest fears here was that the peripheral "loner" character here was going to end up being the villain (like every character suspects at one point), but McManus steers the plot away and combats assumptions in a very interesting way here. The whole story gives me a sense that maybe she's listened to some of the criticism of the first book.
If you're in a reading slump, and you just want to read a quick, enthralling read to just take you away, give this one a shot.
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One of Us is Lying: Review Here