Total Star Rating: 4 Stars
It’s John Hughes meets Agatha Christie: The Breakfast Club meets And Then There Were None in this angsty, YA murder mystery debut novel from Karen McManus.
To be honest, I was intrigued to read this title as soon as I’d heard about it because it feels like the mystery genre has been untouched upon for the YA/Teen reading level over the years, and not many titles have been released for Young Adult/Teenage readers. I could totally be wrong on that, but if so, no other mystery titles have had the publicity this book received!
I’m always up for a good whodunnit-style murder mystery, and adding teenagers and modern technology of the 2010’s was something that I hadn’t read really before and wanted to see how it’d be portrayed. The only comparison I could think of that also did it in a really creative and fun way was MTV’s TV show version of the Scream franchise, but that’s more in the horror side, so there’s still a little bit of a gap there to be honest.
As I read this title, I was drawn into the whole mystery that drives the story and how the characters develop as secrets get revealed, unrequited feelings arise, and relationships of all kinds are tested as four students at Bayview High become the prime suspects in another student’s unexpected murder! Sure, the characters start off as the stereotypical character archetypes we’re all familiar with: the brainiac, the bad boy, the jock, and the prom queen. This is where the John Hughes inspiration stops however, because as you read on, the characters continue to prove they are so much more complicated than just the categorization we can’t help but compartmentalize them into.
I had to say that as the big reveal presented itself, I didn’t expect it coming! I truly didn’t know who was behind it the entire time I was reading this story; was it someone else, or was it one of the four main characters who were behind it? The unpredictability of the story was a major plus!
What It’s About:
The story starts out like a familiar 80’s teen flick; five high school students are on their way to detention, but the story really starts when one of them never comes back out alive. The victim, Simon, ran a website of scandals that involved everyone who goes to their school, Bayview High (Yes…it’s very much like Gossip Girl, except everyone actually knows it’s him), and it turned out that the very four others he was in detention with were going to be the topics of his next post, revealing all their darkest secrets to the public. Sounds too good to be a coincidence, right? Well, the cops sure think so, and very quickly, all four of them become the prime suspects in this case. Who could it be?
Bronwyn: The scholar who’s never late and always has perfect grades, but is tired of the weight of the pressure to succeed?
Cooper: The star athlete who suddenly got a little extra swing into his batting average?
Nate: The rebel with an illegal side job, but it’s secretly for a noble cause?
Addie: The prom queen with a spot free reputation, but can barely hide the cracks that threaten to shatter everything?
What I liked:
- The Story Is Told From Multiple Perspectives! The story is told from each of the surviving four teenagers and their take on what happened. Each had their own distinct voice and personality that helped the reader get to know them and see them develop as the mystery moved forward. Yes, all of them have dark secrets that they hoped would never see the light of day, but honestly, who doesn’t? The secrets made each character have flaws that make them feel more well rounded and authentic, and anyone who wouldn’t like them because they made less than noble choices is seriously kidding themselves.
- There’s Stereotypes, But With a Twist! The author does rely on the stereotypical teen character tropes as a starting point for the book: the outsider, the brainiac, the jock, the criminal, and the princess, but makes them all do a big 180 spin and completely drops the cliché tropes like a trapdoor.
- The Mystery! It’s quite simple; I love a good whodunnit kind of mystery, and this one was an interesting addition.
- The Author’s Writing Style! Karen wrote in such a way that I know the younger generations that these characters fall under can understand and enjoy within the story; she really gets how their minds work, how they’d react, what they care about; she really understands her characters, their motivations and uses that knowledge to create a vivid and believable dynamic amongst them.
- The Romance! I don’t care what anyone says, I’m a sucker for romance! A relationship develops in the story, and it was indeed one of my favorite parts of the whole story. They say a good romance is when the characters shouldn’t have to kiss in order to prove that they have chemistry, and I think that was done exceptionally well. Their interactions were a big high point for me.
What I didn’t Like:
- Back to the Clichés…While I did enjoy the obvious stereotypical characters that completely change as the story progresses, I felt like falling back on those as a base for the characters and introducing them in that manner meant that the author could only go so far with their development, thus limiting herself to anything extremely extraordinary. Some could argue that she tries to stretch away from the stereotypes that towards a point, they seem to not even seem all that realistic of characters? Personally, I didn’t feel that way, but I can see how others could give this criticism.
- There’s Nothing Learned…While the book was entertaining to read, that just about the only thing that really drove the story: the entertainment factor. I didn’t feel any different after reading it, nor did I have a deep, meaningful lesson or theme that stuck after I finished other than the typical mystery theme of “everyone has secrets”. It’s almost a guilty pleasure in a way: it’s juicy, exciting and you keep reading to see what happens next, but if it doesn’t do any of that, it could start to feel like soda that’s gone flat compared to a freshly cracked open can. There might not be enough substance for more experienced readers to really consider it incredibly worthwhile.
- Cheaters…The author does seem to gloss over the fact that two characters, one of them a main character, are caught cheating on their significant other. Some could complain that it wasn’t called out enough to be considered a worry from the author’s standpoint, and I know that cheating girlfriends/boyfriends is a touchy subject.
- The Climax…Maybe I’m just too evolved of a reader for much of YA now, but honestly, the big reveal for the climax fell a little flat. Honestly, *mild spoiler alert*……………….but the reveal of a character turning out to be gay felt like a bigger twist.
Personally, I did greatly enjoy the story, even as someone in the 18-24 age range when I read it. For me, the main cast of characters and their developing group dynamic was the main factor keeping me interested in reading on. I liked the characters immensely, and really became emotionally involved as I got to know them better, and how they came together in order to solve the mystery.
The only question is, how great can a murder mystery really be when it’s mainly character driven? I will leave this review with this: if you’re newer to reading or YA/Teen centric books, beginner level mysteries, or for anyone who was a big fan of TV shows like Pretty Little Liars or Riverdale, it’s probably a great choice but maybe wouldn’t be enjoyed as much for more advanced readers.
Thanks for Reading!
— Nick Goodsell