The Blurb On The Back:
Five students walk into detention.
Only four leave alive.
Yale hopeful Bronwyn has never publicly broken a rule.
Sports star Cooper only knows what he’s doing in the baseball diamond.
Bad boy Nate is one misstep away from a life of crime.
Prom queen Addy is holding together the cracks in her perfect life.
And outsider Simon, creator of the notorious gossip app at Bayview High, won’t ever talk about any of them again.
He dies 24 hours before he could post their deepest secrets online. Investigators conclude it’s no accident. All of them are suspects.
Everyone has secrets, right?
What really matters is how far you’ll go to protect them.
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
Bronwyn Rojas is an A-grade student, Mathlete, pianist and will be the next valedictorian of Bayview High School before following in her parents’ footsteps and attending Yale.
Adelaide ‘Addy’ Prentiss is pretty and popular – a Homecoming Princess whose mother entered her into beauty pageants when she was younger and who is dating the star running back of the football team.
Cooper Clay is a star baseball whose looking at moving straight into a career in the minors after High School and hopefully then the big leagues.
Nate Macauley is a screw up – a drug dealer who’s currently on probation and barely pays attention when he is in school.
Simon Kelleher runs About That, a gossip app that spills all the secrets Bayview HIgh’s students don’t want exposed.
Ordinarily none of these teenagers would hang out with each other, but then a prank results in them having to spend detention together and during that detention, Simon Kelleher dies from what at first seems to be a tragic allergic reaction. It’s only later that the police reveal it was murder and that each of Bronwyn, Addy, Cooper and Nate had secrets that Simon was about to reveal on his App – secrets that perhaps one of them killed to protect …
Karen M McManus’s YA murder mystery is a pacy, clever read that combines THE BREAKFAST CLUB with CLUEDO while trying to give the traditional High School tropes more depth (although I think this worked best with Addy as the others are a little stock). McManus does well in slowly un-peeling the different secrets and motives and although I did guess who did it and I think the ending was overblown, it held my interest from beginning to end.
McManus has a real gift for pace and plot. This book moves really quickly, helped in part by the fact that she switches between each of the suspects to both flesh out their respective backstories and relationship with Simon and also setting out the progress of their investigation (which is mainly driven forward by the go-getting, driven Bronwyn). I liked the way she shows how they are all questioning of each other and how their friendship circles intersect and connect with one another but also how reliant they are on the gossip mill. Also good is how their views of each are in part determined by their High School role as Princess, Jock, Degenerate and Nerd. The problem for me is that while McManus tries to take the traditional characteristics of these roles and then further develop or subvert them, this doesn’t really come off because the way she tries to deepen them are themselves well worn tropes – the closeted gay athlete, the good girl attracted to the bad boy, and the bad boy with a tragic backstory that makes his bad behaviour understandable.
The only character where the technique works well is with Addy’s development as we see why she’s been pushed towards being pretty and popular and her own doubts about it. This is because McManus draws a neat parallel between the relationship she has with her vain and shallow mother and her relationship with her elder sister Ashton who took her mother’s advice and is now looking at divorce. It also works to examine her relationship with her controlling boyfriend, Jake, which I thought was well drawn except towards the end when it becomes a little too soap opera for me.
For me the book worked really well until the final quarter, which is when McManus starts to explain some of the backstory on Simon (some of which is apparent early on) but also events start to rush along at too great a pace for me so that the explanations and revelations don’t have quite enough time to sink in and have an impact. This is particularly the case with some of the side characters, such as Simon’s friend Janae who I thought was far too underdeveloped given her role. I also wasn’t that fond of the resolution to Bronwyn’s storyline given that she did cheat in her exam and it is both trite and sets a bad example. This aside though, this is an entertaining and clever read that kept me turning the pages and I very much look forward to seeing what McManus writes next.