If you lookup ‘YA’ on my blog then you’ll come upon a recurring theme: I’m basically always disappointed. I don’t intentionally hate YA fiction but I think it happens to be too simplistic. I don’t remember reading much YA as a child. The only book I vividly remember, which means the only one I really liked, was Postcards From No Man’s Land. I can only have been about 12 when I read it but I loved it. Mostly because I found the stuff about World War 2 so interesting but also because it felt like a grown-up book. I don’t think my love affair with YA fiction really got too far beyond Postcard’s From No Man’s Land. Unfortunately, I grew up and realised that adult books got even more grown-up and even more interesting. I’ve never really been your typical teen reader so the paint-by-numbers style of these books just never really did anything for me. When I read YA now I tend to find it too obvious and full of the same tired cliched. I have always been a lover of bad teen cinema but that doesn’t mean I need the same nonsense to filter into literature. There’s a massive difference between seeing Hilary Duff and Chad Michael Murray being hyperbolic teen lovers on screen and reading another Romeo and Juliet wannabe YA novel. Anyway, despite all of this, I always get sucked in by the latest breakaway hit in YA fiction. I’ll read about something on Instagram or hear a synopsis and think “maybe this is the one”. Karen M. McManus is one of those YA writers who knows exactly how to lure in potential readers: by ripping off one of the greatest 80s teen movies of all time. How could I ignore it?
Technically, I was born in the 80s. Yes, I was only alive for the last 2 years so my memories of that era are nonexistent but that shouldn’t matter. My love of 80s culture is just about passable. It does, though, make my hatred of younger people’s love of all things 80s kind of hypocritical. I don’t know why but seeing hearing teenagers talking about how “random” it is that they love electro really gets my blood boiling. There’s a 20 year old guy I work with who keeps saying “I was born in the wrong era” because he enjoys listening to Depeche Mode. I mean, seriously? Who doesn’t like a bit of Depeche Mode. It doesn’t make you special. Anyway, the 80s has a weird hold over young people today and writers of YA fiction know it. That’s why Karen M. McManus has taken the premise of The Breakfast Club and turned it into an Agatha Christie novel for One of Us is Lying.
A Geek, A Jock, A Criminal, A Princess
Who would you believe?”
So we have a direct link to John Hughes movie right there in the tagline to force people in. It’s blatant pandering that made me super angry; mostly because it fucking worked.
So, the basic premise of One of Us is Lying is that five kids enter detention one day but one of them ends up dead. The four remaining students are all suspects in his murder because, as we find out, the dead guy knew a whole bunch of secrets about them all. The rest of the book is divided into the perspectives of the four students as they make their way through the investigation and try to find out who is guilty. The problem is, it’s super fucking obvious from the very beginning who did it. Even before the murder happened I’d called it and then had to spend the rest of the book waiting for the inevitable. I have no time for any crime book that signposts the ending so brightly but still acts as though its a huge mystery when the big ‘reveal’ happens.
The title of this book is One of Us is Lying but, when it comes down to it, everyone’s lying. Most notably Karen M. McManus herself. Instead of weaving an intricate plot that fools her readers, McManus purposefully keeps information from her readers until the right time. I mean one of the narrators literally says “And then I remember. Mikhail Powers is gay.”. It’s a revelation that, considering the information we receive afterwards, this character shouldn’t have forgotten but did until McManus needed her to remember. It’s just shoddy and lazy writing: just reveal vital bits of the plot when it’s relevant instead of creating red herrings to keep up guessing. It’s not how to write a decent crime novel and, if I’m honest, I really regret associating this tripe with anything Agatha Christie ever wrote.
One of Us if Lying isn’t just bad YA fiction; it’s straight up bad writing. McManus starts with the final act and then finds a really convoluted way to get back to the beginning. It’s just stupid and, when you really think about it, the final reveal just wipes out everything we’ve just read. It makes everything the characters just went through null and void. It made me so fucking angry to get to the end. And that’s before we’ve even considered all of the major cliches that she’s included. For one thing, the so called “geek” is a super attractive, fairly popular girl who has boys fall madly in love with her at first sight. The “criminal” comes from a broken home and has endless terrible things lead him down a terrible path. The “jock” is hiding the most cliched secret of them all and is written in a truly unrealistic way. And the “princess” is the worst of the bunch. She goes through a supposedly inspiring transformation but it’s just superficial. These characters don’t have depth. They’re just stereotypes who fit into McManus’ plan.
This book is the epitome of everything that I hate about YA fiction but amped up to 11. It assumes that the people reading it are stupid or have no real care for good story telling. It’s written as if it’s for children but all of the teenage characters seem far too mature. A lot of YA fiction wants the best of both worlds. It wants readers whose tastes are immature enough to appreciate the writing but who also identify with teenagers who act like adults. The only good thing I can say about this book is that it was a super easy read. Mainly because there is no depth involved. You don’t even have to pay attention to what’s going on and, really, there’s not much going on. If you like The Breakfast Club, I suggest you do yourself a favour and just rewatch it. This rubbish isn’t worth your time.