Review: One of Us Is Next by Karen M. McManus
We’re going to start this one a little differently but hold on, I promise there’s a point to my long winded rambling and it does absolutely relate to the book review. 💜
How do you rate books? I imagine it’s slightly different for everyone. Ratings, especially those on most books sites, are so subjective. What are people connecting with in the story? What is turning them off? Are they a harsh critic or overly generous? What mood were they in when they read the book? Because yes, moods and frame of mind and even at what point in their life the reader is can absolutely alter the perception of a book. I know it’s happened to me. I’ve read a book and felt one way about it, then read it years later and couldn’t understand why I felt that way originally. I can’t be the only one. However, even though the rating I give may change, the criteria I use doesn’t.
Let’s take Goodreads 5 star ratings and throw them up against how I generally rate. (If you want, I’d love to hear how you rate in the comment section! I like seeing how we’re all similar or different.) Here we go:
⭐ These are ones I absolutely hated! Loathed!! I could burn them and dance around the fire with glee. From page 1 to the end, it was SUFFERING! I found them completely boring and/or nonsensical. Horrible dialogue, unbelievable characters (even after granting them the benefit of “suspension of belief”), storylines that are disjointed or have giant plot holes or simply have no real point… Bottom line, I couldn’t connect to anything that was written. They’re just BAD!!! Also, though I try my best to not DNF a story, if I do, they get the 1 start treatment too.
⭐⭐ Books with this rating are only slightly more tolerated than 1 star reviews. I don’t go through quite as much screaming or hair pulling out anyway. There’s nothing inherently wrong with them and they didn’t make me hate them like a 1 star does but they just were absolutely not my taste. These could also have easily been DNF’d for lack of interest (not disgust, which is a major qualifying distinguishment between 1 and 2 star ratings).
⭐⭐⭐ The 3 stars. Middle of the road. Not amazing but not horrible. Similar to 2 star ratings but not quite. A lot of the adult romances I read fall into this rating. Most people refer to them as “Beach Reads” but I call them my “Cotton Candy” treats. Fun while consuming but not really satisfying and quickly forgotten. Books with great storylines but horrible editing often fall into this rating too. Once or twice is one thing, but when it happens enough times that I’m looking for the grammar issues over the story itself, you’ve killed it for me.
⭐⭐⭐⭐ Ah, the 4 star rating. Now we’re getting somewhere. I’ve been lucky in that I follow many who enjoy the same stuff I do so their recommendations next to never steer me wrong. That’s why you’ll see most of my books fall into this category. These are books that I’ve definitely enjoyed and would recommend to others. They have substance to them and I wouldn’t mind doing a re-read later on down the road if a reason to presents itself. Also, I generally only have 1 or 2 personal gripes that have more to do with difference of opinion than issues with the story itself.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Last, we have the beloved 5 star books! My babies! My favorites. 🥰 These are stories that have somehow weaved themselves into my soul. I can’t put them down and if I have to (because some stupid adult thing requires me to), I’m thinking about them every second until I can pick them up again. It becomes an addiction, really. I live in their world for days, weeks, sometimes years to come. The characters become friends and their lives change me between the pages of those books. They’re definite buys and keeps; often fondly re-read over and over again. It’s exceptionally hard to get a 5 star out of me. There just has to be special magic and it’s rare.
Still wondering… “Okay? And? How does this connect to One of Us Is Next? Can’t you just give it a rating like all the others?” Well, I could but I’m having problems with exactly which rating I want to give it. So let’s get one more piece of housekeeping out of the way. The Goodreads deets.
One of Us Is Next (One of Us Is Lying #2) by Karen McManus
Come on, Bayview, you know you’ve missed this.
A ton of copycat gossip apps have popped up since Simon died, but in the year since the Bayview four were cleared of his shocking death, no one’s been able to fill the gossip void quite like he could. The problem is no one has the facts.
This time it’s not an app, though—it’s a game.
Truth or Dare.
Phoebe’s the first target. If you choose not to play, it’s a truth. And hers is dark.
Then comes Maeve and she should know better—always choose the dare.
But by the time Knox is about to be tagged, things have gotten dangerous. The dares have become deadly, and if Maeve learned anything from Bronwyn last year, it’s that they can’t count on the police for help. Or protection.
Simon’s gone, but someone’s determined to keep his legacy at Bayview High alive. And this time, there’s a whole new set of rules.
Alright, let me be upfront, there’s going to be spoilers. I’ve thought and thought and thought about this and I can’t see my way around it without giving some stuff away. So be warned!
I really enjoyed this book’s predecessor – One of Us Is Lying – which is saying something because I don’t generally go for the “whodunit” type books. It garnered a strong 4 star rating from me so I was super excited when One of Us Is Next came out. I had high hopes that it would pull me in too. But it just didn’t. Instead, it left me conflicted. It’s as if I could pull this book apart and rate the individual elements instead of the book as a while. I’ve never experienced anything quite like this; a love for one aspect and a disappointment for another; and I don’t think I like it. 😐
People like to think they’re open-minded, but if you toss a tired gender stereotype in their path they’ll run with it every time. I don’t understand why the world insists on stuffing kids into boxes we never asked for, and then gets mad when we won’t stay there.
The characters! Instead of the Bayview 5, Ms. McManus has narrowed down our main cast of characters to 3… Maeve, Phoebe, and Knox. Don’t be sad, the B5s make appearances here and there throughout but they’re not central to the story as a whole. Because of this, you could almost read this as a stand-alone since there are only references to the Simon story. But I’m getting off-topic.
Let’s take Maeve first. I loved Maeve and related to her alot. She’s smart and funny and sweet but she’s built a wall between her and the outside world because of her battle with leukemia. It’s not easy having a disease in high school. I know from first hand experience. It sets you apart and try as you might, bridging that gap with your peers can be very difficult (verging on impossible). Add in crushing on someone? Ha! The other downside of living like that is it also makes it very easy to learn how to hide things. You don’t want to scare people or make them worry. You never want them to look at you differently. You can only handle yourself being terrified of your future and some days, not even that. Watching Maeve go through all of that was like watching a window into my high school years.
There’s one poignant moment between her and Nate when he catches her nose bleed. She’s been suspecting that her leukemia is back but hasn’t told anyone, not even her doctor.
“So you can’t… You have to… Why? Why would you keep something like this to yourself?”
My voice is low and hoarse. “You don’t know what it’s like.”
“What what’s like?” Nate asks.
“It’s just – everything changes. Everyone is sad. Normal life stops and we all climb on this miserable treatment roller coaster that only goes down. It’s horrible and it hurts in every way possible, and the worst thing is, it doesn’t work.” I’d start crying again if I weren’t completely spent. I sag against Nate’s shoulder instead, and his arm tightens around me. “It never works for long. Four years is the longest ever. I thought maybe I’d never have to do it again and I . . . I don’t know if I can.”
So yeah, Maeve was my girl! Badassery, brains, with a side of vulnerability. Plus, her friendship with Knox was the best. Oh, Knox. 🥰 I love that name, btw. He’s the *BEST BOI* and I wish all the great things for him in life! I only knew a handful of guys like him in high school and they all grew up to be amazing men. The youngest of a houseful of sisters, he was more comfortable around girls. Think: the guy in high school that you saw, but didn’t really see. A good guy that is often overlooked. Kind, loyal, perfect.
Maeve and Knox tried dating but after an exceptionally awkward plan to lose their virginity to each other (that obviously went horribly wrong!), they decided they were better off as friends. I mean, when you treat it as a goal or some classroom assignment – their words – it’s bound to fail. So seeing a healthy, platonic relationship gave me the warm and fuzzies. Too often, YA wants to pair and doesn’t spend enough time on really good mixed friendships. Not everyone is out to sleep with their best friend!
This brings me to Phoebe. I liked her but not as much as Maeve. If Maeve was the “good girl”, Phoebe was the “bad girl”. I don’t mean that she got bad grades or was mean. She just made some questionable choice in her sex life; one of which came back to haunt her. But even though you hated her decisions, you still rooted for her because deep down, she was kind and stood up for her friends. Of the three, Phoebe had the biggest and most impressive character arc. Having to endure what her choices wrought publicly, allowed her to go through a tremendous self analyzation process and spurred her on to change for the better.
At the end of the book, we get an adorable little scene between Knox and Phoebe. Just a potential promise but nothing concrete. I applaud Ms. McManus for staying true to Phoebe’s new outlook but at the same time, I would’ve really loved an epilogue that gave a glimpse of our 3 post high school. It’s not a HEA exactly, it’s more realistic and open ended. 😊
Alright, so as much as I loved the characters, I disliked the storyline. It was, in a word, boring. It had none of the excitement and suspense of the first book. I found myself caring more about the characters inner life than figuring out who was the culprit. This lack of tension and curiosity left me feeling disappointed. I know it was supposed to run in the background but geez. It was REALLY in the background!
We know from the first book, that Simon was blasting secrets. This was similar but done in a Truth or Dare style. Our mystery person sent a text and the recipient had a certain amount of time choose. If they didn’t, it was an automatic truth blasted to the whole school. After the first 2 truths got released, people chose the Dare. It was so much safer… Until it wasn’t. And that sort of put an end to the text game. Great, right? Not when we’re only half way through the book.
Through hints and clues, we’re left to puzzle through this crazy pact between two individuals that was made on Simon’s original revenge forum. Furthermore, the game was meant to target 1 person instead of the whole school but it was carried out in some bizarre 😉 and vague way. Lastly, just to muddy the story a little bit more, we find out that there’s also a plot to attack and kill Eli. (For those that don’t remember, he’s the lawyer that helped the original Bayview 5 get exonerated.) Because why not.
I think what was supposed to happen was the two mystery people were supposed to carry out the other’s revenge and then one backed out leading to a cascade of problems and elevated confusion and fear. What actually happened was a botched delivery and not enough attention on the non-Bayview revenge plot. It didn’t truly take center stage until the last handful of chapters and by then, I didn’t really care that much. There was a lot of “umm… okay…” going on in my head towards the end.
I will say that that last twist was interesting though! Not enough to redeem it for me, but enough that it’s worth mentioning.
So here’s what I’m left with… a 4 star rating for characters and development but a 2 star rating for storyline. Ms. McManus just didn’t concentrate enough on the revenge plot for me. If I split the difference, I’ll leave it at ⭐⭐⭐ for a rating. I didn’t hate it but I didn’t love it either. 🤷🏻♀️
Have you ever read a book that scored high in one category but bombed in the other for you? If so, I’d love to know that I’m not alone. 💜
Trigger warnings for teen drinking, sexual assault, death of a student, and bombing.
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