“The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place” by Julie Berry

I have to start this post by saying I usually don’t like works that joke about death. “The Loved One” by Evelyn Waugh made me cringe instead of giggle, and “Arsenic and Old Lace” made me worry about corpses in my own basement instead of shriek with delight at Teddy’s constant yells of “charge!” However, maybe I’m loosening up with increasing age and maturity or simply Julie Berry’s clever dialogue, because I definitely chuckled more than once while reading “The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place.”

When the headmistress of Prickwillow Place drops dead at Sunday dinner, her pupils devise a clever plan. The girls bury their headmistress in the vegetable patch – covering her with manure of course – and begin their lives as free women. However, their tiny Victorian community refuses to leave them alone. They are visited by the village busy-body, the doctor, and several romantic interests. Although the girls dress unfortunate Stout Alice up to pose as their late headmistress, the upcoming Strawberry Social puts strain on their disguise. And when they realize their headmistress died from poisoning, they are forced to consider that murder may be among them as well…

The dialogue and plot were funny and clever, and although some of the ruses weren’t entirely unexpected, I was more than willing to go along for the ride. British humour at its finest, “The Scandalous Sisterhood” recalls old black and white movies and comical plays with a modern message for women. Simply delightful!

“One Of Us Is Lying” by Karen M. McManus

Five kids go to detention. One is murdered. Who killed him?

The premise of this book is simple and catchy. It works so well.

I loved so much about it from the standard school setting to the detailed characterisation. The four murder suspects are a jock, a nerd, a popular girl, and the school drug dealer. However, their background stories are intriguing enough to keep them from being too stereotypical.

At some point in the novel, you will be convinced that you know who is the murderer. For sure. And then out of nowhere, another hint will point you in a different direction and you’ll go “meh, maybe it wasn’t them,” and you’ll have to keep reading to find out the truth. Make sure you have time, because you’ll stay up all night with this book! Consider yourself warned.

Each character has flaws, but they also have positive traits as well. Sometimes I’d think, “Heh, I can see why this person would want to kill that kid.” And then I’d think, “God, I hope they didn’t. They have so much to lose if they did.” This constant flip-flopping feeling the whole way through is what makes McManus brilliant.

In terms of themes, this novel is extremely relevant. The kid murdered was a cyberbully with an inflammatory blog. Although everything he posted about his peers was technically true, it makes him the most unlikable character of the bunch.

In addition to cyberbullying, “One Of Us Is Lying” addresses academic cheating, high pressure to succeed, drugs, parental approval and disapproval, mental illness, and being true to your identity. This book involves so many topical issues that the high school environment feels dangerous, challenging, and real. The characters make tough decisions, sometimes the wrong ones. Sometimes there is no right decision to make.

“One Of Us is Lying” speaks directly to its teen audience. It’s cyberbullying gone too far. It’s bad decisions made for good reasons. It’s an awesome read.