Five Little Liars is pitched as I Know What You Did Last Summer meets One of Us is Lying, and the similarities are immediately apparent. Unfortunately, this just isn’t gripping in the same way. I’m not sure what was missing, but I wasn’t engaged by the plot and – with the exception of Tyler, who deserves better – didn’t care enough about the characters.
The story follows five students – Ivy, Cade, Tyler, Mattie, and Kinley – taking a summer psychology course taught by Dr Stratford, the single most unpleasant teacher in existence. I hated him to the extent that I wasn’t sure why he was allowed to be a teacher – the way he treated his students was emotionally abusive at best. The five students aren’t friends – Mattie is from out of town, Ivy the once-Queen Bee who’s fallen from grace, Cade the millionaire’s son who’s quite frankly unpleasant, Kinley the nerd, and Tyler the delinquent. However, they are forced together when they all become involved in the murder – and subsequent cover up – of Dr Stratford.
The premise is excellent, with the tension hinging on who’s going to crack and tell first. However, much of that tension is lost because the story doesn’t make the reader care enough about the characters. I wanted Tyler to be safe, but the others almost seemed to deserve to be caught. They all had secrets of their own and – as much as many of them were in dreadful situations which explained their terrible decision making – I didn’t like them enough to worry about their fate. Their interactions with each other also suffered from several tropes of young adult literature, with insta-lust if not insta-love distracting from the plot. As a bisexual, one of my biggest pet peeves is the bisexual teenager who’s unfaithful to their partner, because it perpetuates the harmful stereotype that bisexuals are more likely to cheat. When it comes amongst other LGBTQIAP+ representation I can allow it, but when it’s the only representation in the story I become very uncomfortable.
There are strong aspects. Tyler in general is an excellent character, and I liked his interactions with his brother, Jacob, and with Kinley. Kinley is an interesting if hard to like character, and I like the exploration of parental pressure – the lengths her dad goes to make me very uncomfortable, but I suspect that’s the point. In fact, part of the reason that this review comes across as very harsh is because there was so much potential. It was an excellent story idea and, whilst the characters are tropes, they could have been fleshed out into very intriguing people. I also thought the final chapter was a great way to end. However, the pieces never clicked together, and the characters never quite elevated themselves from tropes into full people.
Overall, this is a good idea lacking somewhat in execution. It’s unfair to compare books, but this compares itself to One of Us is Lying and just feels a bit like a knock-off version. For those looking for a quick young adult mystery it provides entertainment, but there are better options out there.
Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for providing an eARC – this in no way affects the contents of my review
Published by Simon & Schuster
Paperback: July 7th 2020