Author: Dana Mele
Genre: Young Adult Mystery
Publication Date: February 27, 2018
Rating: ⭐️⭐️✨ (2.5 stars)
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.
There’s something about prep school cliques and mean girls that speaks to me as an insanely fun backdrop for a fictional murder investigation. Along with its aesthetic cover, that’s why People Like Us caught my eye. Give me a YA mystery that unravels the It Girl’s untouchable nature and show me the shifting tides of the high school food chain any day. People Like Us is a quick, indulgent read that seemed like it was going to check all the boxes I was looking for. And it did. But only at a surface level.
With books like these, I want to feel the desperation of the characters; I want to feel backed into a corner when they’re faced with impossible decisions. That’s why I was disappointed it was so hard to connect with the characters in People Like Us. Kay, the narrator, is the only one who stands out from the crowd, and even that is clouded by her unreliability. I can appreciate an ambitious and unreliable narrator, but her distance was confusing and her displays of emotion over some things but not others felt incongruous. The members of our supporting cast are barely fleshed out to the point of being distinguishable, and it’s hard to feel anything for them because Kay betrays so little of her feelings toward them herself. Even with my misgivings, though, one strong point I’d love to note is the fluid LGBTQ+ representation in the story and how it’s never discussed but simply accepted as fact. That’s the kind of openness and empowerment I love to see in YA novels.
I did enjoy the layered nature of the plot – it’s not just the mystery of the dead student that you’re trying to solve; it’s the transgressions of Kay and the other It Girls at Bates Academy, as well as the hidden secrets buried deep in Kay’s own past. Deception and betrayal are constant to keep you on your toes, and like the synopsis suggests, the truth is only what the teenagers at Bates Academy decide it is. Unfortunately, I found the overall mystery to be rather predictable – in terms of the whodunnit and even their motive – and the smaller mysteries slide in and out of focus in a way that’s hard to keep track of. But it’s also worth noting there’s a final twist at the very end of the novel that was my favorite part of the whole book.
All in all, People Like Us was too low in character development and high in predictability for me to truly enjoy it, but if you’re looking for a fast read that’s heavy in high school drama, this might just be a good pick for you!