Book: “People Like Us” by Dana Mele
Publishing Info: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, February 2018
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description: 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.
Review: Oh ho ho what’s this? It’s another ‘horrible kids being horrible at boarding school’ book!! My freaking weakness of a book type (or one of many). “People Like Us” by Dana Mele was one of those books that I just randomly stumbled upon on GoodReads thanks to that site’s propensity to feature books on the side of your feed that they are trying to promote. Most of the time I ignore these ads, but on occasion I’m drawn in because of tantalizing covers or large words promising great things, usually of thriller kind. Knowing full well that I was pretty much taking a gamble, I requested it. When it opened with a bunch of boarding school popular girls finding a body, I was immediately drawn in. Because who doesn’t love a bit of salacious carnage to kick off a book? But as the book kept going, it became quite clear that it was going to be something we’ve seen before without pushing many boundaries inside of the genre.
The cast of characters is a pretty standard cast list for a YA thriller/mystery. Our protagonist is Kay, a girl who came to the prep school Bates Private School with two main motivations: to pursue a soccer scholarship for college, and to run away from a trauma from her past. She has a number of secrets she keeps from her other friends in their popular crowd, just as they have secrets from each other as they rule the school and sometimes torment other students. Unfortunately, there was definitely too much of her hinging on on this tragic and secret past of hers, and while it was slowly and carefully unfolded I never really found a moment of connection to Kay. While most of her relationships with her friends are pretty one dimensional, there are a couple exceptions to this: she is attracted to and perhaps in love with her best friend Brie, but their romance has never come to fruition because the timing has always been wrong (or Kay has been misbehaving in some kind of way). And along with Brie there is Nola, a classmate who has always been seen as weird, but may be Kay’s only hope in solving who is harassing her and targeting her friends. I really liked that Dana Mele treats Kay’s sexuality as just a fact of the story, and that all of these characters were fairly fluid in their sexual identities. But beyond that, none of them were particularly noteworthy or interesting. As Kay’s friends face their various consequences to being jerks, I never felt particularly bad for them, nor did I really feel a sweet satisfaction outside of a general ‘ha ha awful popular kids get what’s coming to them’ feeling. They weren’t likable, but they weren’t interesting enough to be fun to hate either. Too many of them were placed to either be non lethal body counts, or to make the reader wonder if they are the one who set it all up in the first place.
The mystery too was a little lackluster for me. There were plenty of red herrings the muddle the waters effectively, be it misdirection about the mystery at the forefront or the mystery of Kay’s past. But ultimately, I did kind of brush across the solution well before the solution was revealed, even if I didn’t let it stick in my mind. And by the time we did get to the solution, I didn’t feel like we’d come to a big revelation. It just kind of happened, and I felt neither positive nor negative about how it all sussed out in the end. There was one final twist that did shock me, though, which was a nice surprise given that I thought that I had everything totally figured out within that storyline. It’s the little surprises that felt rewarding in this book, but when you don’t find yourself as a ready very invested in the majority of the mystery, or the consequences that it is going to dole out of the characters.
So what made it so readable, perhaps you are wondering? Well honestly, I am always going to be a sucker for the boarding school brats being rotten to each other trope, along with the themes of the misbehaving idle rich getting what they so richly deserve. If you want a standard book within this trope and genre, “People Like Us” is going to fulfill that want and need because it is so by the book (as it were). It almost acted as a comfort read for me, in that I didn’t have to think too deeply about it and that I knew that bad people were going to have bad things happen to them. Sometimes all we want is a book that hits all the things that we want and to be able to just enjoy it for what it is, and I do have to admit that I got that from “People Like Us” when all was said and done.
If you are looking for a YA thriller mystery that reinvents the wheel, “People Like Us” probably isn’t going to be the read for you. But if you want that familiar comfort of a genre you’ve come to really enjoy without rocking the boat, it could be a good bet.
Rating 6: A fine example of the thriller genre, especially if it takes place in a boarding school, but “People Like Us” doesn’t really do much to set itself outside the genre.
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