One of Us Is Next
The capitalization of that title bothers me. I feel like the ‘of’ AND the ‘is’ should be lowercase, but what do I know?
After the events of One of Us Is Lying, there is a hole left by Simon and his gossip blog, and someone has chosen to fill it with a game of Truth or Dare. If Maeve, Phoebe, or Knox choose a Dare, then their ugly Truths won’t be spread around the school. It seems like a “fun” game, until someone winds up dead.
I really liked One of Us Is Lying. It felt new, and I didn’t even guess at the big twist ending (which I will not spoil here - go watch the upcoming show). The writing was well done and I was invested in the way the mystery twisted through the characters’ lives.
And then I realized, after reading Two Can Keep a Secret, that McManus’ books are all very similar, despite only two of them being related. That twist ending I didn’t guess at? It was smart, because there were clues littered throughout the book. I could’ve put it together, and it makes it worth a reread. One of Us Is Next took that formula, diluted it, and tried to serve it back to me like it was going to be just as smart and let me tell you - it failed, spectacularly.
The plot of this book dragged. The only reason I read it as quickly as I did (despite waiting two years to finish it) was because I simply didn’t care anymore. It was the same way I read House of Blood and Earth (review here) where I just wanted to get it over with and off my ‘currently reading.’ There was so much happening and yet nothing at all. What I liked about the first book, where we get into the nitty gritty about how this case is affecting the characters, is lost in this book. There’s no case, there’s not even anyone dead until over halfway through the book. Maeve does some half-assed research, but it’s mostly about her relationship with Knox and her remission diagnosis. Knox is a hurt bystander, but it’s mostly about Eli’s law practice and kinda about his relationship with his dad. Phoebe is the first victim, but it’s mostly about how she’s now getting slut shamed and how her dad’s death affected her family.
The whole draw of the original mystery was how each character was lying, and who might’ve killed Simon. It was how their lives spiraled while they were being investigated. This book doesn’t have any of that. It’s about them going about their daily lives, which is frankly so boring in a book where I was promised murder and intrigue.
Another thing I liked in the first book were the relationships. Bronwyn and Nate fell together naturally, and the representation with Cooper and Kris was also really nice. This book had none of that. There was some weird shit going on between Luis that college-aged guy and Maeve, who is smart but also 17. She might be mature for her age, but Luis is also an adult. Gross. And then there was that last minute romance between Phoebe (who talks about how pretty all the girls are and only objectively talks about boys) and Knox (who shows little romantic interest in anyone throughout the whole book). It’s so frustrating, and unnecessary.
The one murdered kid in this book wholeheartedly deserved it, and I’m saying that as someone who knows, objectively, that he‘s not a real person. There’s also this thing with the writing where it’s almost like McManus wants you to feel bad for the dead would-be rapist and murderer of dads, but you can’t. He has no redeeming qualities, and the author is trying to make you feel conflicted, but I have no remorse. Assaulting a girl when you were directly responsible for her dad’s death? I think the fuck not.
The ending twist was very dumb. SPOILERS!! SPOILER SPOILING SPOILERS! It was the sister? But there was literally nothing leading up to that reveal, besides her getting super drunk all the time and her phone magically disappearing. But it was also this other guy who hasn’t been mentioned once until the last 50 pages? Sounds like a plot hole to me. Come on, stop introducing half of your murder squad in a murder-mystery until the very end. It’s very lazy, and besides, the Scream franchise did it way better. But it was also the little brother? 😑 I’m over it. That was stupid and bazaar (ha - that was the dumbest reveal).
The reason I gave this book two stars, though, was the realistic portrayal of teens. I’ve read quite a few books in my day where Gen Z 16-17 year olds are the main characters, but McManus has it down. Her characters feel like Gen Z teenagers (besides the few dumb quips that real teens would never say), and they don’t speak in just text-speech. It’s refreshing, to see someone capable of producing characters that feel real, even if the story they’re stuck in is not great.
Overall, this was not the best book I’ve read from McManus. I do wonder, though, if they’ll cover the contents in the show. If that’s the plot of a future season, I think the show writers could do a lot better than the book did. Maybe we’ll actually get some clues to the end, since One of Us Is Next decided to be more of a character study than a murder-mystery.
Trigger warnings: cursing, death, infidelity, bullying, cancer, death of a parent, gaslighting, grief, adult/minor relationship, murder, sexual assault, sexual content, toxic friendship, homophobia, police violence/misconduct, bombing