Mystery/Thriller, YA Contemporary Fiction

My Review: Two Can Keep a Secret: by Karen McManus

Publish Date: January 8th, 2019
Number of Pages: 329 Pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Genre(s): YA Mystery, Suspense/Thriller

Total Star Rating: 2 Stars

Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.”

– Benjamin Franklin

Okay lesbehonest…who else is shook that the quote we hear so much now is actually missing someone from the original quote? Maybe one of them really is dead?…

One thing we do know is that secrets never fully stay buried for long, they always have a way of revealing themselves, whether or not we want them to be or not. Like insects, they like to find a way to sneak through the cracks and infest themselves…But I can’t lie; they sure do make things interesting…

When I’d read Karen McManus’s debut novel, One of Us is Lying (see my other book review by clicking the link in the text), I was kind of impressed that someone had stepped up to give YA readers something different, which was a Mystery/Thriller genre title. The section is filled to the brim on either Contemporary Romance or Fantasy (usually with romance too), and I’ve got to admit, they all are starting to bleed together…they’re just becoming spinoffs of each other, and less and less titles are beginning to feel original. One of Us is Lying felt different! It was something semi new to the table, and sure, it had the stereotypical characters that we’d all seen before…but that was only a base that she profusely deviated from in a fun and entertaining fashion! They developed and changed and completely turned around on their original expectations and it was enjoyable to grow with them as I read the mystery surrounding their story!

I’ve heard that while the debut novel of an author can be a huge success, it’s the sophomore novel that can be more of a challenge in terms of a good story or whether the author learned from their first and can keep up the momentum, but I admit that the former may be called into question because I regret to inform you guys that I wasn’t all that impressed with this title. The author’s craft continues to improve, there’s no doubt about that, but this book just wasn’t as much fun as her previous work for me. It was unpredictable and left me guessing who was behind it, but it never got me too excited or fully invested.

To sum it all up: it wasn’t terrible, but it was just an okay read.

It explores the idea of a seemingly pristine town that is riddled with a violent and mysterious history, and is infected with many dark secrets underneath the surface. It’s people on the outside appear darn-near perfect, but we all know things are never as they seem.

What It’s About:

When their mother is sent to rehab after a brutal car accident, Ellery and her twin Ezra are sent to live with their grandmother in the town that their mother grew up in but has the dark history of not one, but two missing girls were mysteriously murdered: Echo Ridge. The twins are used to not drawing too much attention to themselves along with taking care of each other with because of their troubled mother, but they learn the night they get into town that they’re connected to the towns troubled and murky history more than they’d ever expected.

Haunted by the past, their grandmother reveals to them one of the murdered girls was actually their mother’s twin sister, the aunt they never got to meet. Ellery becomes engrossed into what really happened all those years ago, and as a self-professed true crime aficionado, she’s up to the case and starts digging, despite not entirely sure she’ll like what she finds.

But like secrets, past events never stay fully buried, and the very night they arrive and learn the startling family reveal, a body is discovered in the road. A beloved teacher is found dead after a hit and run with no known suspect. More mysterious occurrences begin to happen, and threatening notes are found all over town, threatening the girls on the Homecoming Court and that they will all soon be dead. It’s exactly like what happened with the other girls many years prior, and the town is put into a terrified uproar over the past coming back to haunt them, history doomed to repeat itself.

To make matters worse, before anyone can do anything about it, a girl does go missing.

Ellery must work faster than ever to save a fellow classmate, and must work with local fellow high school student, Malcom (who’s family also has a bad history involved with the murders), in order to solve the mystery and rid the town of a possible killer on the loose.

What I liked:

  1. It’s Unpredictable! The author can really craft a great mystery, anyone who reads her novels I hope can see that! She expertly weaves red herrings, scapegoats, and other subplots together in order to keep you guessing and not have a clue as to who the killer could possibly be. I admit I had no idea who it was until the climactic final showdown.
  2. Great Minority Representation! The main character is Latina with a gay male twin, and there’s two asian side characters with one of them being bisexual! Instead of sticking with stereotypical characters as a basis for her main cast, Karen mixed it up and made the characters for this title much more diverse, which is a huge plus for the YA market. If not Game of Thrones-esque Fantasy, representation has been a huge selling point for contemporary titles, which is so great to see in recent years!
  3. The Final Line of the Book! The only thing that made me feel something was the very final line of the book as it left quite a chilling impression. It was a great way to end a suspense/mystery!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Title Sounds Like A Sequel…I feel like it’s confusing that this was titled Two Can Keep a Secret when her first novel was titled One of Us Is Lying, and yet they’re completely unrelated to each other. This isn’t the sequel even though the title suggests otherwise; it’s a complete standalone…Something about that feels disappointing to me.
  2. There’s Less Points of View…One aspect of One of Us Is Lying that I loved was how we heard from four different characters as you read that book. I love to get inside the minds of completely different characters and see how they operate with a different perspective, but we only got two characters for this title, much to my disappointment. I was also bummed that among the voices we heard the most of, none of the cast really stuck with me. They were fine, but nothing too special or memorable.
  3. This Was Too Character Driven…It sounds odd for a mystery, but a lot of the novel moves based off the characters and how they react to stuff that happens, which is what made this a slower read than I liked. I know it contradicts what I usually say about that style of story, but I think a murder mystery shouldn’t be so character driven. What’s also lacking is that the characters didn’t really develop or change all that much as time went on. They just learned more secrets and reacted to them.

Conclusion:

It wasn’t a terrible book by any means, but I must say that for me, it was a lackluster sophomore murder mystery novel. Other readers, maybe younger and/or newer ones, can immensely enjoy this title. I blame the personal hype I gave this book from how much I did enjoy her first book, along with how many other books I’ve read which has raised my standards over the years. I recommend this title to anyone who’s a fan of teen thriller TV shows Riverdale and Pretty Little Liars (Karen can certainly write content better than both of those comparisons)!

Luckily, Karen has shared on her Twitter that she will have 2 books come out in 2020, including the actual sequel to OOUIL, One of Us is Next, which is expected to come out January 7th, 2020! I can say I’m still a fan of hers, so ya know I will check her other titles out and see what she comes up with next. Her craft can only go up from here!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

LGBT, Mystery/Thriller, YA Contemporary Fiction

My Review: One of Us Is Lying (One of Us Is Lying #1): by Karen McManus

Publish Date: May 30th 2017
Number of Pages: 361 Pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Genre(s): YA Fiction, Mystery/Thriller, LGBT

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. The Mystery! It’s quite simple; I love a good whodunnit kind of mystery, and this one was an interesting addition.
  4. 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.
  5. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Conclusion:

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