I saw this on Goodreads months ago and was intrigued. I’m always on the hunt for a good thriller/mystery, especially a really good YA one, and I thought this might fit the bill. Unfortunately, and to the amazement of everyone considering how my last few reads have gone, it didn’t.
Kay Donovan may have skeletons in her closet, but the past is past, and she’s reinvented herself entirely. Now she’s a star soccer player whose group of gorgeous friends run their private school with effortless popularity and acerbic wit. But when a girl’s body is found in the lake, Kay’s carefully constructed life begins to topple.
The dead girl has left Kay a computer-coded scavenger hunt, which, as it unravels, begins to implicate suspect after suspect, until Kay herself is in the crosshairs of a murder investigation. But if Kay’s finally backed into a corner, she’ll do what it takes to survive. Because at Bates Academy, the truth is something you make…not something that happened.
Just…no. What sounded somewhat promising fell really, really short.
A combination of a bad plot, pacing, predictability, characterization, and writing style was this book’s downfall for me. Just a couple insignificant aspects of a book, right?
Let me start with Kay, our main character. I did not like her at all. I know we’re supposed to kind of not like her because of her mean girl tendencies but there was nothing that redeemed her by the end of the book. I like my mystery leads to be smart, resourceful, and driven and I felt like Kay was the opposite of this. Obviously the situation would make anyone emotional but instead of thinking through things logically Kay based a lot of her actions and sleuthing on her emotions. Despite being so emotionally charged, she also felt like a really flat and passive character. It felt way more like a teen drama (it gave me The Thousandth Floor vibes at times) than a murder mystery.
Speaking of sleuthing, there wasn’t actually a lot of that. It felt like there was a lot of downtime in the book, which really messed with the pacing and my interest in the plot. Why do I need to read and reread Kay’s inner dialogue? Why does it seem like underdeveloped secondary characters are doing all the grunt work and getting none of the appreciation?
The overall way this book was written and the story was told was not working for me. It seemed like we kept circling back to relationship drama that, granted, did play parts in the murders but ultimately were focused on way too closely for me to keep caring. It also felt like the plot was too predictable to be enjoyable. I didn’t have all the details figured out but I knew who did it and let me tell you, the reasoning behind the murders was stupid. No spoilers so I’ll leave it at that but it was a weak ending.
The book was just really weird! Kay’s history was told to death (sorry, it’s too fitting), all the characters were super dramatic (it’s just high school, who cares?!), the relationships were awkward, secondary characters seemed to pop up at random times to serve a quick purpose then disappear, and what kind of headmistress for an elite boarding school is that timid? I think it just felt entirely too out there so instead of drawing me into the story all I did was roll my eyes.
I will say it had a few OK qualities:
- There’s LGBTQ representation and it isn’t there just as a device or an attempt to get more people to read the book, it’s just normal and that’s that.
- The couple of settings throughout the book are pretty cool and I like the way they play off the story.
- Train travel!!
- Parts of the book did give me the heebie jeebies, particularly when the murder scenes are being described. I love true crime and thrillers but there’s something about imagining living in a school where everyone hates you and you’re about to be framed for homicide that really gets the skin crawling.
- The effects of bullying and harassment are shown in different contexts throughout the book but convery the same important lessons. Though it could have been told in a better way, the message here is a good one.
That’s really it, guys. I can’t think of anything else that I really liked about this book. It was just so dull and boring. It’s not much fun reading about how a character you don’t like does nothing for 400 pages, interacts with other characters you don’t really like, and ends up solving a murder you solved a couple hundred pages ago. There are quite a few people on GR who enjoyed this book, so definitely check it out for yourself, but it wasn’t for me.
Books I’d Recommend Before This
If you want to try a good mystery book, here are some I’d recommend!
Truly Devious: I know there are a lot of people on GR who have the same complaints about this book as I do about People Like Us, but I thought it was a really intriguing story. Granted, I wasn’t as into book two, but it had been a long time since reading the first book and I couldn’t remember a lot of it. This is a good boarding school mystery that I think reaches the vibe that People Like Us was trying for.
Killing November: Another boarding school but a very different type! There’s murder, complex relationships, and an enjoyable lead. The plot kept me turning the pages and I devoured this book very quickly.
A Study in Charlotte: I will admit that I lost interest with each consecutive book, but the first one really had me hooked. It’s an entertaining retelling of Sherlock Holmes told from a male MC’s perspective (something I don’t read a lot but really enjoy) that has a lot of sleuthing.
Everything You Want Me to Be: By far one of my favorite books, I read it so quickly. It’s got suspense, murder, and plot twists. It isn’t YA but it does tell the story of a murdered high school girl and what happened to her.
One of Us Is Lying: I couldn’t not put this on the list, honestly. I loved this book and I’m really excited for the second one to come out. I liked the constant suspicion, I didn’t see the whodunnit coming, and the relationships and character development were great. It might not be a boarding school but it shows that there’s plenty of drama in regular ol’ public school. It also touches on some of the same themes as People Like Us, but it’s told in a better way.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: Another one that isn’t YA but I can’t leave it off this list. It’s technically adult fiction but is told from the POV of eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, aspiring chemist and sleuth extraordinaire. The setting is great, Flavia is great, everything is great. Please read this series.