One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Overall Rating: 4/5

Quality of Prose: 2.5/5

Quality of Story: 4/5

Quality of Characters: 4.5/5

Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 4/5

How Long It Took Me to Finish: 3 days

A 1 Sentence Summary

When Simon Kelleher, the writer of the school gossip blog, dies in detention, the other four students who were with him–all of which have secrets to protect–are the prime suspects.

My Favorite Quotes

“’The first seven years of the Joshua tree’s life, it’s just a vertical stem. No branches,’ she told me while we were hiking. ‘It takes years before it blossoms. And every branching stem stops growing after it blossoms, so you’ve got this complex system of dead areas and new growth.’ I used to think about that, sometimes, when I wondered what parts of her might still be alive.”

one of us is lying

What I Loved About It

I have to be honest, I have never gotten into murder mystery, suspense/thrillers. I typically stay away from genre fiction as a whole. I don’t read much sci-fi, I don’t read romance, I don’t read mysteries. But I heard from a friend that this book was great, and I wanted to try something new. And I was definitely not disappointed. I really enjoyed reading this book.

McManus is great at keeping her readers engaged. Each character has multiple secrets that are revealed throughout the novel at exactly the right moments to change your view on who killed Simon and to keep you reading. For this reason, it was hard to put this book down. She handles the suspense, the romance, and the character development (all four of the main characters really grow throughout the novel and that’s rare for a mystery novel with four protagonists.) really really well.

Though this book didn’t make me super emotional or stay with me for days after finishing or blow my mind, it was a fun read and it had more depth than I’d expect of a YA mystery/thriller. And I think my kids would really, really like it.

What My Students Could Learn From It

This book reminds me a lot of Thirteen Reasons Why because of its likability but also because of the clear cut lessons it teaches teens.

There are clear morals to be learned when reading One of Us Is Lying. Don’t make judgments about people. Don’t define yourself by the relationships you’re in. Be kind to people because you never know what they’re going through and how the things you say or do might affect them. Be honest with the world about who you are. Don’t cheat. Don’t gossip. Don’t lie. Don’t sell drugs. Though I typically prefer books with more ambiguity and depth, I definitely see the draw of a book like this as a teacher.

And like I said, my kids–and yours–would absolutely love One of Us Is Lying.

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The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

Overall Rating: 2/5

Quality of Prose: 2/5

Quality of Story: 2/5

Quality of Characters: 1.5/5

Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 0/5

How Long It Took Me To Finish: A week

A 1 Sentence Summary

When she moves to a new city and school after her friends died in a mysterious accident she can’t remember, Mara Dyer meets the handsome Noah Show and uncovers what really happened the night of the accident and who she really is.

My Favorite Quote

I honestly don’t have any quotes I loved from this book, but for the sake of continuity, here’s one that isn’t terrible:

“The two of us snuggled like quotation marks in his room full of words.”

mara dyer

What I Loved About It

At first, I was really intrigued by the mystery in the book. What happened to Mara’s friends? Why do people keep dying around her? I was also intrigued by the romance between Mara and Noah. Will they ever get together? Are the rumors about him correct?

But about midway through the book, when these questions were finally answered, I lost all interest and found it very difficult to not roll my eyes at the mawkish romantic fluff between Noah and Mara and the silly, plot-hole filled mystery that is the central conflict of the novel.

The romance, though it started out being a particularly sexy and interesting one, ended up bearing too great a resemblance to the Twilight series. Noah and Mara seem to be too deeply in love far, far too quickly. Noah is creepily overprotective and way too perfect and Edward Cullen-esque. And that part is the most frustrating of all because at the beginning of the book, it seemed like he had flaws–he was a player and a bit of an entitled but mysterious jerk–and these flaws made him a really attractive character. But then Mara realizes he likes her and suddenly, he is perfect and sweet and kind and so smart and supportive and a dog lover and trillionaire and the most attractive man Mara (and the audience) has ever seen. And for some inexplicable reason, he likes Mara immediately (even though, like Bella Swan, she’s given him no reason to garner his attention or attraction).

And don’t even get me started on the plot itself. What began as a really intriguing mystery devolved into a difficult-to-follow, cliche-filled, rushed narrative that I honestly didn’t care to know the ending of. Mara kills people with her mind? Ack. Mara has to swim across a swamp of alligators to find her brother who has been kidnapped for NO APPARENT REASON with the help of Noah who–again inexplicably–knows her brother has been kidnapped and where exactly to find him? Double Ack. Noah has a super power that means he can sense Mara’s pain and cure people and especially Mara? Ack Ack Ack. Let the uncontrollable eye rolls commence.

Though I myself found the book especially corny and unlikable, I could definitely see my students being interested in it (the way they’re still interested in Twilight though it is also–to put it mildly–pretty terrible).

What My Students Could Learn From It

Nothing at all.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

Quality of Prose: 4/5

Quality of Story: 4/5

Quality of Characters: 3/5

Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 2/5

How Long It Took Me To Finish: 2 days

 

A 1 Sentence Summary

Cadence Sinclair, of the rich and famous Sinclair family, struggles to remember what happened during the summer of her 15th year, when she suffered a traumatic brain injury on her family’s private island.

 

My Favorite Quotes

“They know that tragedy is not glamorous. They know it doesn’t play out in life as it does on a stage or between the pages of a book. It is neither a punishment meted out nor a lesson conferred. Its horrors are not attributable to one single person. Tragedy is ugly and tangled, stupid and confusing.”

“Everything doesn’t seem like anything when you love someone. Especially when you’re young.”

 

we were liars

What I Loved About It

THE TWIST. OH MY GOODNESS THAT TWIST THOUGH.

It’s the kind of twist I’ve only seen before in movies, and E. Lockhart pulls it off magnificently in this novel.

You’ll get to a point where you think you’ve gotten to the twist but oh ho ho THERE IS ANOTHER ONE COMING AND IT’S HUGE AND CRAZY. And I’m not going to spoil it for you because the twist is honestly what makes this book great and there’s no point if you know what it is.

Anyways, the twist (as I’m sure you can probably guess by now) blew my mind. Previous to the twist, I was interested in this book and what would happen next, but to be honest, I wasn’t enthralled by it. The twist made all the difference.

I found We Were Liars shockingly relatable. My family may not be rich enough to own a private island near Martha’s Vineyard, but I understand that feeling you get as a young person where you feel like your family is so narrow-minded and on the verge of falling apart and you are briefly willing to do whatever it takes to teach them the error of their ways and to keep the family from splintering. I think my students will relate to this as well.

I did love E. Lockhart’s prose in this one. It’s different from her biting and hilarious wit in The Boyfriend List (which I read and loved in high school), though definitely still clever, unique, and impactful. Here’s an example of it when the narrator is describing how she felt when her dad left her and her mother suddenly and without warning: “My father put a last suitcase into the backseat of the Mercedes…and started the engine. Then he pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest. I was standing on the lawn and I fell. The bullet hole opened wide and my heart rolled out of my rib cage and down into a flower bed. Blood gushed rhythmically from my open wound, then from my eyes, my ears, my mouth.”

What My Students Could Learn From It

We Were Liars is a great commentary on wealth, privilege, and prejudice in America.

It also teaches an interesting lesson on the stupid decisions teenagers make that end up with far-reaching, tragic consequences. I think MANY of my students could certainly use a lesson on that.