At the start of the novel, Karen M. McManus introduces four characters who seem to be little more than teen-movie archetypes: there is the brain (Bronwyn), the jock (Cooper), the popular princess (Addy), and the druggie burnout or “criminal” (Nate). Despite being well-aware of the stereotypes they present to the world, all of these characters are also painfully aware and sometimes even frightened of the ways in which their true selves go against the grain of the archetypical roles they’re expected to live up to. As each character’s journey of self-discovery and search for truth gets underway, they begin forming connections with one another, shattering the stereotypes that have been thrust upon them and helping one another to do the same. Through her characters’ unlikely connections, McManus ultimately argues that nothing is ever quite as it seems, and that even the most straightforward-seeming individuals and situations contain hidden depths.
The first half of the novel is dedicated to establishing the stereotypes McManus’s characters inhabit—and dismantling them bit by bit. The catalyst for all the revelations about the ways in which each of the “Bayview Four” subvert the high school stereotypes thrust upon them is Simon Kelleher’s unpublished About That app post, which reveals a major secret about each one. Bronwyn is a brain, but she cheated her way to perfection; Cooper is a jock, but has been carrying on a clandestine love affair with a male model in between baseball games; Addy is a mega-popular girl dating the hottest guy in school, but their relationship is deeply problematic; Nate deals drugs, but only does so as a way to provide a meager income for himself and his deadbeat alcoholic father whose unemployment checks can’t cover the bills. As the stereotypes surrounding each of her characters come crashing down, McManus employs the use of nearly constantly shifting first-person points of view in order to explore how her characters feel about the changing landscape of their social and emotional worlds. Cooper reflects on how he has endured “years of conditioning” which have caused him to deny his own feelings and place others’ comfort first; Bronwyn is forced to confront how other people’s perception of her as a perfect student drove her to take desperate, unethical measures in order to preserve her false image; Addy begins to learn what it’s like on the other side of the social divide, the side she feared so much that she lingered in a socially advantageous but emotionally destructive relationship to avoid; Nate has to examine the emotional defense mechanisms he has built up in order to stave off the feelings of rejection, trauma, and isolation caused by his mother’s abandonment and his father’s alcoholism.
After dismantling the stereotypes about all of her major characters, McManus spends the second chunk of the novel exploring how they each begin looking past what they thought they knew about one another and band together to solve the mystery that threatens to topple each of their lives—who killed Simon, and why—even as they fall prey to continuing to believe the harmful things society has told them about themselves. Unlikely friendships—and romances—begin to form between several of the major characters as they get to know one another for who they really are. Nate and Bronwyn begin a clandestine romantic relationship, and their connection deepens even as experts and officials connected to the case warn each of the Bayview Four to minimize interactions with one another to avoid heightening the public’s suspicions about their involvement in Simon’s death. Rejected by her popular friends once the truth about her having slept with another classmate, TJ, comes to light, Addy befriends Bronwyn and even Simon’s best friend, Janae. Even Addy’s materialistic sister, Ashton, escapes her dead-end marriage and strikes up a romance with the brainy and justice-oriented Eli Kleinfelter, a pro-bono lawyer who assists the Bayview Four. McManus creates and strengthens these unlikely connections between her characters to show how giving into and perpetuating stereotypes often isolates people from one another and locks them into choices and paths that are actually detrimental to them—just because they believe it’s what’s expected of them based on who others think they are. As she delves into her characters’ complicated cores, McManus mines the tense gulf between who these characters think they should be and who they want to be in order to explore how stereotypes hinder meaningful but unlikely connections between people.
Towards the novel’s end, several characters are still struggling to reconcile the things they’ve learned about themselves—and each other—over the course of all that has happened to them. Nate, who was framed for Simon’s murder and placed in juvenile hall, has been exonerated and lifted up as a hero. However, after so many years of leaning into other people’s perception of him as a delinquent, he has trouble seeing himself in this new light. He begins intentionally pushing Bronwyn away, “disappointing her right on schedule.” Although rejecting the new idea of who he could be, and who he has perhaps been all along, hurts him, it is the only thing in all the chaos that “makes sense” to him. Meanwhile, Addy is in a state of mild post-traumatic shock after being assaulted by her ex-boyfriend Jake; he lashed out when Janae revealed to Addy that Jake was responsible for the cruel About This posts in the wake of Simon’s death. Addy has mostly recovered from the grave skull fracture Jake inflicted on her, but the heavy “emotional stuff” she’s dealing with is still settling in. Addy struggles to come to terms with the fact that the stereotypes she believed about Jake are all falling down. Jake, the golden boy of Bayview, turned out to be a controlling, vengeful misogynist who nursed a dark desire for violence beneath a sunny exterior. The high school stereotypes that have informed Addy’s academic and social experience have crumbled all around her, and she is left literally dizzy in the rubble of all she thought she knew.
As the novel unfolds, the characters within it untangle the webs of all they’ve been conditioned to believe about themselves and one another. As they do so, the connections they form with one another allow them to begin breaking down those stereotypes. Through her characters’ unlikely but profound connections, McManus shows how stereotypes stand in the way of meaningful relationships—and argues that the only way to create those bonds is to look past the harmful labels standing in their way.
Stereotypes and Unlikely Connections ThemeTracker
Stereotypes and Unlikely Connections Quotes in One of Us is Lying
Maeve and I are sprawled on my bed watching the minutes on my alarm clock tick by until my debut as a national disgrace. Or rather, I am, and she’s combing through the 4chan links she found through Simon’s admin site.
"Check this out," she says, angling her laptop toward me.
The long discussion thread covers a school shooting that happened last spring a few counties over. A sophomore boy concealed a handgun in his jacket and opened fire in the hallway after the first bell. Seven students and a teacher died before the boy turned the gun on himself, I have to read a few of the comments more than once before I realize the thread isn’t condemning the boy, but celebrating him. It’s a bunch of sickos cheering on what he did.
"Maeve." I burrow my head in my arms, not wanting to read any more. "What the hell is this?"
"Some forum Simon was all over a few months back."
I raise my head to stare at her. " Simon posted there? How do you know?"
"He used that AnarchiSK name from About That," Maeve replies.
Sexism is alive and well in true-crime coverage, because Bronwyn and I aren’t nearly as popular with the general public as Cooper and Nate. Especially Nate. All the tween girls posting about us on social media love him. They couldn’t care less that het a convicted drug dealer, because he’s got dreamy eyes.
Same goes for school. Bronwyn and I are pariahs—other than her friends, her sister, and Janae, hardly anyone talks to us. They just whisper behind our backs. But Cooper's as golden as ever. And Nate—well, it’s not like Nate was ever popular, exactly. He’s never seemed to care what people think, though, and he still doesn’t.
Another long silence descends while I try to gather my thoughts. I should be angrier, probably. I should demand proof of his trustworthiness, even though I have no idea what that would look like. I should ask lots of pointed questions designed to ferret out whatever other lies he’s told me.
But the thing is, I do believe him. I won’t pretend I know Nate inside and out after a few weeks, but I know what it's like to tell yourself a lie so often that it becomes the truth. I did it, and I haven’t had to muddle through life almost completely on my own.
And I’ve never thought he had it in him to kill Simon.
It’s a mundane, innocuous conversation compared to yesterday’s lunch, when we caught up on my police visit, Nate's mother, and the fact that Addy got called to the station separately to answer questions about the missing EpiPens again. Yesterday we were murder suspects with complicated personal lives, but today we're just being girls.
“I'm getting what I deserve, right? That’s what everybody thinks. I guess it's what Simon would’ve wanted. Everything out in the open for people to judge. No secrets."
"Simon . . ." Janae’s got that strangled sound to her voice again. "He’s not . . . He wasn’t like they said. I mean, yes, he went overboard with About That, and he wrote some awful things. But the past couple years have been rough. He tried so hard to be part of things and he never could. I don’t think . . ." She stumbles over her words. "When Simon was himself, he wouldn’t have wanted this for you."
I sit with Mary in the interrogation room after Detective Chang leaves, thankful there’s no two-way mirror as I bury my head in my hands. Life as I knew it is over, and pretty soon nobody will look at me the same way. I was going to tell eventually, but in a few years, maybe? When I was a star pitcher and untouchable. Not now. Not like this.
"Cooper." Mary puts a hand on my shoulder. "Your father will be wondering why we're still in here. You need to talk to him."
"I can't," I say automatically. Cain't.
"Your father loves you," she says quietly.
I almost laugh… He loves when I strike out the side and get attention from flashy scouts, and when my name scrolls across the bottom of ESPN. But me?
He doesn’t even know me.
[Nate] crosses to our table and dumps his backpack next to Bronwyn. She stands up, winds her arms around his neck, and kisses him like they're alone while the entire cafeteria erupts into gasps and catcalls. I stare as much as everyone else. I mean, I kind of guessed, but this is pretty public. I'm not sure if Bronwyn’s trying to distract everyone from Cooper or if she couldn’t help herself. Maybe both.
Either way, Cooper's effectively been forgotten. He's motionless at the entrance until I grab his arm. "Come sit. The whole murder club at one table. They can stare at all of us together."
We're not getting anywhere with this conversation. But I'm struck by a couple of things as I listen to them talk. One: I like all of them more than I thought I would. Bronwyn’s obviously been the biggest surprise, and like doesn't cover it. But Addy's turned into kind of a badass, and Cooper's not as one- dimensional as I thought.
And two: I don’t think any of them did it.
"Let's go back to what we know," Bronwyn says. Her voice is almost clinical, but her face is flushed brick red. “Simon was one of those people who thought he should be at the center of everything, but wasn’t. And he was obsessed with the idea of making some kind of huge, violent splash at school. He fantasized about it all the time on those 4chan threads. What if this was his version of a school shooting? Kill himself and take a bunch of students down with him, but in an unexpected way. Like framing them for murder." She turns to her sister. "What did Simon say on 4chan, Maeve? Do something original. Surprise me when you take out a bunch of lemming assholes."
I'm barely dragging myself forward, and the noises behind me get louder until a hand catches my arm and yanks me back. I manage to scream once more before Jake clamps his other hand over my mouth.
"You little bitch," he says hoarsely. "You brought this on yourself, you know that?"