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Book Review

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting [magazine] (https://store.focusonthefamily.com/goaa-thriving "magazine").

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Bronwyn Rojas, Addy Prentiss, Nate Macauley, Cooper Clay and Simon Kelleher, students at Bayview High, are in detention together. Mr. Avery doesn’t allow phones in his classroom, and he found cellphones in their backpacks. Bronwyn tells Mr. Avery that the phone he found isn’t hers, and when the others admit to having phones planted in their bags as well, they realize they have been set up.

In the group, Bronwyn is considered the brain, Addy the beauty queen, Nate the troublemaker and Cooper the athlete. Simon is the creator of About That, a gossip app set up for their school. Simon’s knack at finding and posting the truth about secrets causes others to fear and hate him. In detention, Simon remarks that their group consists of walking teen movie stereotypes, and he considers himself the omniscient narrator.

The group hears a car accident in the parking lot, and Mr. Avery leaves to investigate. When the students go to the window to look, Simon drinks a cup of water and has a severe allergic reaction. Nate frantically searches for Simon’s EpiPen. When he can’t find it, he sends Cooper to the clinic to get one, but the EpiPens have all been removed. The ambulance arrives, but it’s too late to save Simon.

The four students are emotionally shaken from the experience. Most of them had known Simon for years, and while they were afraid of him or disliked him, they are rattled from seeing a person die firsthand. Nate offers Bronwyn a ride home on his motorcycle, and Cooper takes an emotional Addy to her longtime boyfriend, Jake.

The police investigation uncovers that the cup Simon drank from was laced with peanut oil. Since the four students in detention with him had access to the cup, Bronwyn, Addy, Nate and Cooper become the main suspects. The police also discover an unpublished About That entry that features rumors about the four students. The post accuses Addy of cheating on Jake; Bronwyn of cheating to pass a class; Nate of dealing drugs, even though he is on probation; and Cooper of using performance-enhancing steroids. The entry casts more suspicion on the four, and soon, not only is the local media reporting the story, but the national media, too.

Addy is terrified of Jake finding out that she cheated on him through the About That post, so she tells him herself. Jake is furious and breaks up with her. At school, their shared group of friends (except for Cooper) treats her poorly.

Bronwyn, who wants to attend Yale, as her parents did, fears that her cheating will be discovered and her dreams for college will be shattered. She tells her parents. They hire an attorney and tell her not to speak with the other suspects. Bronwyn ignores this warning, as she is growing closer to Nate.

Nate has been dealing painkillers, but quickly gets rid of his stash before the police search his house. Cooper has been terrified of Simon eventually finding out his secret. He is relieved by what was revealed in the unpublished post, even though it means that college baseball scouts are suspicious of his talent. Cooper isn’t using steroids; his real secret is that he is gay and cheating on his girlfriend with a college-aged male model.

It isn’t long before the police discover that the unpublished entry was edited, and Cooper’s secret relationship is brought to light. Cooper becomes ostracized in school and at home. As police and public suspicion increase, the four students begin secretly getting together to compare notes, hoping to clear their names.

Nate, who has a criminal record and is thought to be a troublemaker, is soon arrested for Simon’s murder. After an anonymous tip, Nate’s school locker is searched for a second time and Simon’s EpiPen, along with all the missing EpiPens from the nurse’s office, are found inside. Bronwyn believes Nate is being framed and persuades a high-profile lawyer to take his case. Bronwyn, Addy and Cooper continue their own investigation, which leads them to Simon’s best friend, Janae Vargas.

Addy visits Janae and learns that Simon wasn’t murdered — he committed suicide. Simon planned his death, from the peanut oil in the cup, to the car accident in the parking lot to distract the teacher. Simon was depressed and wanted to die, but he also wanted to punish the four students he believed slighted him in the past: Bronwyn for giving him a wrong due date for an important project, making him miss the deadline; Nate for taking the attention of a girl Simon liked; and Cooper for having Simon blacklisted from an after-prom party. Addy was targeted just because she cheated on Jake.

Janae tells Addy that Simon rigged the votes so he would be on the junior prom court, and Jake found out. While Simon mocked people for wanting to be popular, he wanted it for himself and was embarrassed to be found out. Simon knew that Addy cheated on Jake, so he used that information to ally with Jake. Simon planned to commit suicide and frame the other four students.

Jake went along with the plan because Jake wanted to pin the murder on Addy, to punish her for what she did. Jake had enough incriminating evidence on Janae to force her to go along with his plan, but Janae liked Addy and planted the evidence in Nate’s locker instead.

While Addy is at Janae’s house, Jake comes over. Addy tries to hide and secretly record Jake, but he finds her and tries to kill her. Cooper arrives and stops the assault. Nate is freed, and Jake is charged with assault, obstructing justice and tampering with evidence.

After Nate is freed, Bronwyn tries to pursue a romantic relationship with him, but he doesn’t feel as if he’s good enough for her. They break up but eventually reunite. Addy moves out of her mother’s house and moves in with her older sister. Cooper and his boyfriend, Kris, date openly.

Christian Beliefs

As children, Bronwyn and Nate attended Catholic school.

Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

Addy’s mother is critical of her daughters, stressing the importance of their looks and ability to attract and keep the kind of man who can take care of them for life. Addy turns to her older sister, Ashton, when she needs support.

Nate’s father is an alcoholic who spends days in a drunken stupor, leaving his son to pay the bills and take care of himself. As a result, Nate sells drugs to support the household. Nate’s probation officer is supportive and encourages him to attend school regularly. Nate’s mother was an addict who abandoned their family for a cult. Nate lies to everyone that she is dead. After years of being absent, she goes to rehab and returns sober. She is there to support Nate after he is accused and arrested for murder.

Bronwyn’s parents are very successful and have high academic and moral expectations of her. They are disappointed with her after she admits to cheating. Cooper’s family has made sacrifices for him to play baseball, with the hope that he will be recruited to a top university and eventually play professionally. After the truth is revealed that Cooper is gay, his father is angry, feeling that Cooper has sabotaged everything that they have worked for, including college scholarships. He barely speaks to Cooper after Cooper comes out.

Jake’s mother cheated on his father. Both father and son are very controlling in their relationships.


Profanity and name-calling include the f-word, s---, a--, b--ch, whore, slut, fag and douchbag. The name of Jesus is used alone and with Christ. God's name is use with d--n, oh, thank and my.

Four students see Simon having a severe allergic reaction, and despite Nate performing CPR, Simon dies. Later, it is revealed that Simon planned his own suicide. After Addy tells Jake that she cheated on him, he angrily punches holes into a wall with his fist. His blood is depicted.

TJ, the boy Addy slept with, sports a black eye and swollen nose after Jake confronts him. Jake pursues Addy through the woods, trips her, beats her and tries to strangle her before Cooper catches up to them and punches Jake.


Simon Kelleher’s gossip app reports on sex tapes, pregnancy scares and cheating scandals about Bayview High students. One of Simon’s posts featured a girl, Leah, who slept with a freshman. She was harassed on social media and tried to commit suicide by slitting her wrist. He wrote another post about a boy, Aiden, who secretly dressed in women’s clothes.

Addy’s divorcee mother dates a string of increasingly younger men and openly flirts with both adult men and high school boys. She tells Addy how lucky she is that a handsome, popular boy like Jake is interested in her and that Addy should hold on to him by any means necessary. Addy’s older sister, Ashton, is in a bad marriage and eventually leaves her husband when she walks in on him having sex with another woman.

Addy and Jake had been dating since they were 14 years old. He was the only boy she ever dated and had lost her virginity to him. Addy, feeling insecure about her relationship with Jake, that she wasn’t good enough and would eventually lose him, got drunk and had sex with another boy while Jake was away on summer vacation.

Simon told Jake that Addy cheated on him, but Jake continued their romantic relationship for months, continuing to have sex with Addy, while plotting his revenge. After they break up, Addy has a hard time adjusting to life outside of Jake’s control. She also loses her friends, one of whom tries to seduce Jake.

Nate has a series of casual sexual encounters with girls whom he meets at parties. He stops after he and Bronwyn become friends. He and Bronwyn have romantic feelings for each other and kiss. They break up after Nate is released from jail. Bronwyn briefly dates and kisses another boy, but eventually she and Nate reunite.

Cooper is dating Keely, one of the most beautiful and popular girls in school, but he secretly in love with Kris, a college-aged boy. When Cooper goes to see Kris, they kiss passionately. Cooper breaks up with Keely, and after his relationship with Kris is made public by the media, they kiss and hold hands openly. The host of an investigative TV show is outraged that the police outed Cooper, as the host was outed without his consent years before.

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Alcohol and drugs: Characters drink alcohol, and Nate deals painkillers.

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Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

14 and up


Karen M. McManus






Record Label



Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC


On Video

Year Published



American Library Association’s YALSA Quick Pick Selection 2018


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