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Literature / One Of Us Is Lying

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"Anyway, they bring it on themselves. If people didn't lie and cheat, I'd be out of business."
Simon, fifteen minutes before being murdered.

A jock. A brain. A criminal. A princess. Five students enter detention: four leave alive. One of Us is Lying is a 2017 Young Adult novel by Karen M. McManus that asks, what happens when The Breakfast Club ends with a murder?

Yale hopeful Bronwyn has never publicly broken a rule.

Sports star Cooper only knows what he's doing in the baseball diamond.

Bad boy Nate is one misstep away from a life of crime.

Prom queen Addy is holding together the cracks in her perfect life.

And outsider Simon, creator of the notorious gossip app at Bayview High, won't ever talk about any of them again. He dies 24 hours before he could post their deepest secrets online. Investigators conclude it's no accident. All of them are suspects.

A standalone followup, Two Can Keep A Secret, was published in 2019. A sequel to One of Us is Lying, One of Us is Next, followed in January 2020 and concerned Bronwyn's sister Maeve, and a deadly game of truth or dare.



  • Adults Are Useless: Albeit with some subversions. See also Police are Useless, because hoo boy.
    • Eli is a subversion. A lawyer working for a non-profit, Until Proven, he's the first person to mention the possibility of Simon having other enemies, helps Bronwyn start her own investigation, and represents Nate after he's wrongfully arrested. In the sequel, Knox works for him as an intern.
    • The Bayview High teachers are played like fiddles by the real killer actually Jake. Every time a new posting is made about the murder, the Bayview Four get pulled into the office and grilled about it. They're still at it in the sequel, when a zero-tolerance policy on gossip apps just means no one has any incentive to report the Truth or Dare game for fear of losing their phones.
    • A recurring theme is the Bayview Four receiving perfectly reasonable, sensible advice from the adults in their lives that they simply find doesn't work out in real life. For example, the advice for the kids to distance themselves from each other seems perfectly reasonable in deflecting suspicion, in practice their lives are falling apart and their social groups have pretty much closed ranks on them, so who else can they turn to but those in the same boat?
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    • Nate's PO is a definite subversion. She's clearly on his side and is no fool, giving him good and sensible advice and escorting him to the police station to act as advocate when he's questioned. She can't stop him being wrongly arrested though.
  • Amoral Attorney: subverted. The lawyers are consummate professionals giving perfectly good advice, which the characters just find it impractical to follow. However, their job is to protect their own client, not the rest of the Four, nor to solve the murder. Eli, who works for a non-profit called Until Proven, is downright heroic.
  • An Aesop: To err is human. Quoted directly by Yale's admissions when they email Bronwyn at the end. No one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes, and it's assholes like Simon and Jake, who think anyone who makes a mistake deserves to have their life ruined, who cause the real trouble.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Addy befriends Janae, Simon's only friend, after finding her crying in the bathroom. This makes Janae unwilling to plant the stolen epi pens on Addy, so not knowing what else to do she frames Nate instead. When Jake comes over to confront her about this, Addy gets their conversation on tape.
  • Berserk Button: Cooper being publically outed turns out to be this for Mikhail Powers, the journalist making a series about the murder and who also is gay and was outed against his will. His coverage of the investigation changes abruptly.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Cooper, when Jake catches Addy recording him and decides to kill her. Cooper lays him out with a punch.
  • Big Secret: Simon specialised in rooting these out and publishing them on his gossip app, About That, revelling especially in taking down the popular and powerful. The dirt he was about to publish on the Bayview Four, coupled with the fact that they were with him when he died, make them the main (only) suspects in his murder.
    • Nate is dealing drugs despite being on probation (not spoilered as it's not exactly a surprise).
    • Bronwyn got her A in Chemistry by cheating. She used a computer after the Chemistry teacher, only to find that he hadn't logged out, and copied his answer key.
    • Cooper is gay.
    • Addy cheated on her boyfriend.
    • Simon is caught at his own game when Jake Riordan finds out he fixed the Junior Prom vote so he'd end up on the court. The threat of being humiliated as he's done to so many others triggers the events of the story.
    • The sequel concerns a game of Truth or Dare, in which the next "player" has twenty four hours to accept the Dare, or their Big Secret will be texted to the whole school. This is intended to force people to accept the Dare, thus allowing Brandon's murder to look like a dare gone wrong.
  • Cool Big Sis: Ashton for Addy. Spots right away that Jake, while outwardly perfect, is a control freak. Moves back home to support Addy when she's a murder suspect, helps her break out of her shell after Jake dumps her, and helps her talk through her feelings about it. Joins in with the investigation, passes vital information along to Eli when he's representing Nate and finally invites Addy to come live with her. In the sequel, she and Eli get married.
    • In the sequel, Knox has five older sisters. The one we meet, Keirsten, clearly thinks the world of her little brother.
  • Cool Old Lady: Cooper's grandmother. Warm, loving and matter-of-fact, it's strongly implied she knew Cooper is gay before he was ready to admit it, encouraging but not forcing him to be honest about it. When the investigation forces him to come out to his family, she's there for him both during and after.
  • Compromising Call: When Addy records Jake incriminating himself, Cooper (who is parked outside, but not in on the recording plan), calls her to find out what's going on. Unfortunately, Addy forgot to silence her phone...
  • Disproportionate Retribution: What people tend to receive as a result of Simon posting their secrets online. His "murder" was really a suicide staged to ruin the lives of the four students he arranged to be in detention with him.
    • The Bayview Four were targeted by the real killer because of this. Simon hated Bronwyn because she and Leah once told him the wrong deadline for the Model UN, which he decided was deliberate. Cooper got him uninvited to an after-Prom party. And Nate dared to hook up with Keely. For this, he decided they deserved to have their lives ruined.
    • Jake decides Addy deserves to have her life ruined with a false murder charge because she cheated on him.
    • In the backstory, Simon ruined Leah's life with gossip about her sex life because she and Bronwyn told him the wrong deadline for the Model UN, which he decided was deliberate.
    • In the sequel, Jared Jackson wants to kill Eli and his whole wedding party, with a bomb because Eli's biggest case involved getting his Corrupt Cop brother arrested, resulting in both his parents' deaths. Tragic? Yes. Grounds for mass murder? No!
  • Engineered Public Confession: There is no evidence of Jake's guilt, so Addy convinces Janae to talk to him about it, with Addy recording in the next room. They get the goods, but Jake catches Addy and decides to kill her, only to be stopped by Cooper. The attempted murder presumably renders the legality of the recording moot.
  • Entitled to Have You: Simon's attitude to Keely, Cooper's girlfriend, in spite of her lack of interest in him. Nate is explicitly included in the Bayview Four because she hooked up with him.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: The "Bayview Four" become this, as a result of being murder suspects, as well as their network of friends and siblings. Their lack of faith in the police investigation convinces them to solve Simon's murder themselves, especially after Nate is wrongly arrested.
  • Foreshadowing: When investigating Simon's online persona, AnarchiSK, Maeve finds a 4Chan post where he criticised the perpetrator of a recent school shooting on their lack of originality. He invites people to surprise him when they "take a bunch of asshole lemmings with them." This foreshadows that his murder was actually suicide, designed at ruining other people's lives in the process.
  • From Bad to Worse: The circumstances that lead to the Bayview Four being murder suspects. Addy, Bronwen, Cooper, Nate and Simon are pranked into getting detention by having phones planted in their bags. A rearending incident outside the window makes the teacher leave the room to help. Simon drinks his water and has an allergic reaction. Nate and Bronwen search his bag, only to find his Epi-Pen is missing. Cooper runs to the nurse's office, only to find those Epi-Pens are missing too. As a result, the paramedics are unable to save Simon and he dies. The police don't believe for one second that any of the above is a coincidence and decide that one of them must be the killer. Then it turns out Simon had dirt on each of them ready to post...
  • Good Bad Girl: In One of Us is Next, Phoebe Lawton is kind, friendly, loving and protective of her little brother, and most definitely not a virgin. Somewhat subverted as she slept with her sister Emma's ex.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Simon has a huge crush on Keely, Cooper's girlfriend. Although Cooper is officially made a part of the Bayview Four for blacklisting Simon from a party, this probably isn't a coincidence. Nate is explicitly included in the Bayview Four for hooking up with her. More generally, Simon is secretly envious of the popular kids despite his open contempt for them and those who worship them.
  • Held Back in School: In One of Us is Next, we learn that Maeve has been held back a year due to missing so much school as a kid as a result of her leukaemia. Knox started school a year late because he was small for his age and his parents were concerned he'd be at a disadvantage. This does not help his "Well Done, Son!" Guy tendencies.
  • Heteronormative Crusader: Cooper's dad, a good old boy from Mississippi, is one of these. There's mention at one point of him railing that "Normal guys shouldn't have to put up with that crap in the locker room" about an openly gay baseball player. Which is why Cooper is so anxious to keep his sexuality a secret.
  • Hypocrite: Simon acts as if his gossip app is a public service, exposing people's nasty secrets, when in fact he just enjoys the power that comes from tearing people down. When he talks to Bronwyn at the beginning, he gives the example of a boy he's recently exposed who taped girls without their knowledge: surely people are better off knowing what he's up to? It doesn't seem to occur to him to actually do some good by taking that information to the police. He also looks down on the popular kids and those who look up to them, but is really desperate to be popular himself and rigged the Junior Prom vote so he'd be on the court.
  • I Am Not Left-Handed: Cooper is left-handed but writes with his right hand, because his father has told him not to waste his left on "Crap that don't matter," meaning anything but baseball. Counts as a Establishing Character Moment as it tells us how important baseball is to Cooper as well as his "Well Done, Son!" Guy tendencies.
  • Ill Girl: Bronwyn's sister Maeve has had leukaemia at least twice prior to the novel's opening, but has been in recession for a few years. In One of Us is Next, she has a relapse scare, and keeps it to herself for weeks out of fear of what a relapse would mean.
  • Important Haircut: Addy after being exposed and dumped for cheating on her boyfriend, and ostracised by her social group, she cuts off her very long, natural blonde hair into a pixie and dyes it purple. This represents finally giving up on getting Jake back and marks the start of her Character Development.
  • Incompatible Orientation: Keely, Cooper's girlfriend, is the most beautiful girl in school, and a genuinely sweet person to boot. Cooper's been telling her he's "old-fashioned" and waiting for marriage to cover for the fact that he's gay.
  • Irony: Simon used his app, About That, to create power for himself by keeping the school in fear of having their secrets exposed. He hurt a lot of people with it, resulting in one Attempted Suicide. In the process he isolated himself from any potential friends, becoming a miserable loner with only one friend he treated like crap. It becomes clear throughout the book that he didn't hurt anyone with his app so much as himself. Up to and including the suicide.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: In One of Us is Next, this is the secret that is revealed about Knox when Maeve ignores her Truth or Dare text, resulting in Knox being humiliated and not speaking to Maeve for a while. When it happened, they simply took it as proof they were Better as Friends. At the end, he and Phoebe kiss, resulting in an embarrassing situation that at least lets him point out that all systems are go this time.
  • Missing Mom: Nate's mother was a bipolar cocaine addict who's been missing for years as the novel opens. Nate has told people she's dead, figuring it's likely true by now anyway. She returns, having recently cleaned up, when she hears he's a murder suspect.
  • Moral Myopia: Simon defends his gossip app by saying they "bring it on themselves" by doing shady things. He refuses to consider that the gossip app itself is pretty shady. As is rigging the Junior Prom vote. And staging your suicide to ruin four people's lives.
    • Jake Riordan is on board with the fake murder plot to get revenge on Addy for cheating on him by ruining her life with a false murder charge. Because getting someone convicted for a murder they didn't commit is in no way worse than cheating.
    • Jared Jackson in One of Us is Next. Jared's brother is a Corrupt Cop arrested as a result of Eli's biggest case. Both of his parents are dead as a result. Which is sad and all, but doesn't exactly justify his plan to kill Eli and his whole wedding party with a bomb. It also doesn't seem to have occurred to him that his brother might bear some responsibility for sending innocent people to jail.
  • Never My Fault: Simon delighted in using his gossip app to tear people down, and revelled in the power this gave him. The fact that this is the reason he has no friends and that maybe he bears some responsibility for his own misery doesn't seem to have occurred to him.
    • His old grudge against Leah and Bronwyn is an example. They once told him the wrong deadline for the Model UN, resulting in him missing the cutoff. Apparently the idea of looking the information up himself didn't occur to him, and years later he's still angry enough to ruin their lives over it.
  • Plot Allergy: Simon is killed with peanut oil, which he is allergic to, in his water.
  • Police are Useless: And how. Granted, there would be no plot if the police did an even half-competent job of investigating Simon's murder, but this novel reads like McManus has a personal grudge. Every time we see the police, they're being played like fiddles and out-copped by Bronwyn's fifteen-year-old sister. It's implied that they don't care who really did it, just who they can blame it on, for example when Nate is told early on that he's "the obvious outlier and scapegoat." Sure enough, he's the one arrested on evidence that could easily have been planted, and was.
    • Less prominent in One of Us is Next as the main characters aren't suspects, but near the end one of the detectives from the first book is seen again, still being played like a fiddle, still apparently taking what known murderers tell him at face value.
  • Slut-Shaming: A recurring theme in both novels, unsurprising given that the plots revolve around having secrets exposed.
    • Addy gets this treatment and loses all her friends when it is revealed that she cheated on her boyfriend.
    • Leah had her life ruined with this in the backstory, resulting in her Attempted Suicide.
    • In the sequel, Phoebe gets this when the Truth or Dare game reveals that she slept with her sister's ex. This was set up deliberately by the person running the game to make sure people take the Dare.
  • Spanner in the Works: Addy reaching out to Janae after finding her crying makes Janae unwilling to frame her, and allows Addy to get her to open up, ultimately resulting in the truth coming to light.
  • "Strangers on a Train"-Plot Murder: This is what's happening in One of Us is Next. Except that, as it's done online, one of the members is confused about who their buddy is. Complicated further when their original buddy backs out, but someone else takes over without either original knowing.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Simon's death. He wanted to kill himself and take a bunch of "asshole lemmings" with him, but with more originality than a simple shooting. Hence, his suicide is disguised as murder designed to implicate four innocent people.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Addy. Starts off with no persona outside of her boyfriend Jake, who we quickly learn is deeply controlling. After her infidelity comes out and he dumps her, she cuts her hair, takes up cycling, joins in Bronwyn's investigation, records Jake incriminating himself and survives a murder attempt.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Cooper's father is thrilled that he's a star pitcher and has talent scouts interested. His pride over this doesn't fade even when his son is a murder suspect and accused of using steroids. When Cooper is outed as gay, however...
    • Knox, in the sequel. He has five older sisters but no brothers. His father, a self-made businessman with a construction company, sees him as a video game-obsessed wastrel and raves about a young employee, Nate, as if he'd rather have him as a son instead. He warms up after Knox helps catch a killer and prevents multiple deaths from a bomb.
  • Wham Line: When the Bayview Four, minus Nate, get together to solve the mystery, they go over old posts from the person claiming to be the murderer. They're puzzled by one post claiming to have seen one of the detectives eat an entire box of doughnuts by himself, because that never happened. But Addy told Jake it did.
    • When Bronwyn finds one of the people involved in the rearending that made the teacher leave the room, he reveals that he and the other guy were paid to do it... by Simon.
    • In the sequel, Phoebe and Emma are going through the chat logs to find proof that someone besides Emma was communicating with Jared after Emma called off the plan. They find some changes in grammar supporting this: so far so good. But then they find another mistake: "bazaar" instead of "bizarre". The same mistake their little brother made earlier.
  • Who Murdered the Asshole?: revolves around the murder of Simon Kelleher, a high school student who ran a highly damaging gossip app, and delighted in using it to tear others down. He was murdered while in detention with four other students, each of whom he was about to publish some major dirt on. As the murderer clearly had to be in the room at the time, the police investigation focuses pretty much exclusively on the "Bayview Four" but, as others point out, there were plenty of people who might have wanted him dead. he killed himself.
    • Similarly with the victim of One of Us is Next. Brandon Webber is a spoiled, misogynist Jerkass who killed Phoebe's father and got off scot-free.
  • You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Addy is admired for her long, blonde, beautiful hair. She cuts it to pixie length and dyes it purple after her secret of cheating on her boyfriend gets out. Her doing this represents giving up on getting Jake back and the start of her character development.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Addy's secret. Cooper is also cheating on Keely with a male underwear model.

"Everyone's got something to hide, right?"

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