Details & Summary:
General warning: this review contains spoilers
Content warning: harmful representation of mental illness
I finished this book a while back, but I haven’t gotten around to writing a review. I’ve been staring at that blank page for a while now and, to be honest, my mind has been blank. Why? Because I’m conflicted. I don’t know how to feel about this book. On the one hand, I love it. I love the plot and the characters. On the other hand, I hate how mental illness was portrayed. I’m going to try and explain how I feel, but please excuse me if it doesn’t make much sense.
I’ll start with the things I liked about One of Us is Lying. First off, I’m a Breakfast Club fan so this book was right up my alley. Yes, this book contains a lot of character clichés (the jock, the bad boy, the princess, the nerd, …) but that’s the point. The reason why it’s okay is because there’s plenty of character development. None of the characters end up being the same person they were when they started.
Without giving too much away, I want to give props to Karen M. McManus for Nate and Addy’s character arcs since I felt those were done the best. Was I surprised by their development? No. Their journeys are fairly predictable, but I didn’t mind because they were done well. On the same note, I think she pulled off the relationships between the characters really well.
Spoiler ahead (!!)
Nate and Bronwyn were my favourite. I’m a sucker for the bad boy and nerdy girl romance and they were just. so. cute. together.
“I stand and hold out my hand. She gives me a skeptical look, but takes it and lets me pull her to her feet. I put my other hand in the air. ‘Bronwyn Rojas, I solemnly swear not to murder you today or at any point in the future. Deal?’
‘You’re ridiculous,’ she mutters, going even redder.
‘It concerns me you’re avoiding a promise not to murder me.”
Second, the plot is well executed. This book is an easy read because the plot moves along at a good pace and there are plenty of twists and turns to keep you turning the page. I usually don’t read mystery, but I think she pulls it off. There are plenty of characters that look guilty over the course of the story but also enough hints for the reader to figure things out along the way or to read back and see what was foreshadowed all along. She left me guessing for a while but I caught on to the real killer a little over halfway in, which I didn’t mind because I still wanted to know if I was right and who else was involved.
Now, for the things I didn’t like…
I’m sorry to say that One of Us is Lying features harmful representation of mental illness. Nate’s mother is bipolar and while I don’t have much knowledge when it comes to the subject, I felt her mental illness was handled badly and, overall, in a very negative way. While I understand Nate’s feelings – meaning, I can understand it’s tough to grow up with a parent who wasn’t there for you, regardless of the state of their mental health – his comments often felt like an insult to bipolar people who’re trying to be a good parent.
“I can’t sit here listening to her promises and hoping it’ll all work out. That she’ll stay sober, stay employed, stay sane.”
Since his mother is shown in a more positive light toward the end of the book, I was willing to “forget about it” or at least forgive McManus for it, but there was a bigger problem I can’t ignore.
This is where the real spoilers start, so please stop reading if you don’t want to know who the killer is.
In the end, this book turned out to be the biggest case of revenge suicide I’ve ever come across. I appreciate that McManus incorporated the “standard” symptoms of the character’s mindset throughout the story (because they can potentially help readers notice the same symptoms and behaviour IRL, aka raises awareness).
The real problem is that character is made into a villain. It basically tells us readers that people who’ve committed suicide (or the ones that are contemplating on committing suicide) are “evil” and “dangerous”. This is clear example of the “mentally ill people are dangerous” trope that needs go away. Like, yesterday. Seriously, enough already. We don’t need this. We need empathy toward people who’re struggling with mental illness. The last thing they need is to be villainized.
While I enjoyed the characters and plot of One of Us is Lying and the writing was more than decent, I’m extremely disappointed to see a harmful trope regarding mental illness being represented in this book. It’s a shame because, without it, One of Us is Lying could’ve been a clear 5-star book.