ABOUT A BOOK #05: MY REVIEW OF KAREN MCMANUS’S NOTHING MORE TO TELL.
Greetings and bienvenue, all.
In this fifth installment of my About a Book series, I’ll be reviewing Karen M. McManus’s YA Mystery novel Nothing More to Tell.
First things first, though.
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With that in mind and without further ado, as follows is my review of Karen M. McManus’s Nothing More to Tell.
Title: Nothing More to Tell
Author: Karen M. McManus
Published by: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: 30 August 2022
Page Length: 368
Reading Age: 14 – 17 years
*BE WARNED: MILD TO MEDIUM SPOILERS FOLLOW*
• PREMISE •
Four years ago, Brynn left Saint Ambrose School following the shocking murder of her favorite teacher—a story that made headlines after the teacher’s body was found by three Saint Ambrose students in the woods behind their school. The case was never solved. Now that Brynn is moving home and starting her dream internship at a true crime show, she’s determined to find out what really happened.
The kids who found Mr. Larkin are her way in, and her ex-best friend, Tripp Talbot, was one of them. Without his account of events, the other two kids might have gone down for Mr. Larkin’s murder. Instead, thanks to Tripp, they’re now at the top of the Saint Ambrose social pyramid. Tripp’s friends have never forgotten what Tripp did for them that day, and neither has he. Just like he hasn’t forgotten that everything he told the police was a lie.
Digging into the past is bound to shake up the present; and when Brynn begins to investigate what happened in the woods that day, she uncovers secrets that might change everything—about Saint Ambrose, about Mr. Larkin, and about her ex-best friend, Tripp Talbot.
Four years ago, someone got away with murder. More terrifying is that said someone might be closer than anybody thinks.
• MY REVIEW •
I’ve been awaiting this one since it was announced late last year. I personally love both Adult and Young Adult murder mysteries with premises based around true-crime investigations. Karen McManus is a very strong writer with quite the unique take on YA, so I was keen to see how she’d go about tackling the concept of a true-crime-based YA murder mystery. I got my copy of this book the day after it came out, and I finished it shortly thereafter.
First, the good:
1. The characters are the best parts of this book. Since her debut novel (One of Us is Lying), McManus has shown an uncanny ability to write relatable teenaged protagonists. More, she’s at her best when she writes them with tragic flaws. I’ve read all but one of her books; and if there’s one constant, it’s McManus’s power to present troubled children who overreact and make spectacularly crappy choices but who earn the reader’s full sympathy with their beautifully, disastrously complex life situations. And that sympathy is exactly why the reader feels an almost personal sense of triumph as those characters eventually begin to figure their lives out and better themselves by the end of the story.
Both Brynn and Tripp are presented here as messed-up characters—Tripp WAY more so than Brynn—with plenty of wounds that need healing so that they can move on and become the best versions of themselves. This is pretty much standard fare for a McManus novel, but it’s no less exciting to read as they go through the steps towards getting there.
Tripp is dealing with MANY layers of issues stemming from abandonment by his mother, finding Mr. Larkin’s brutalized corpse at a vulnerable age, and having secretly carried the knowledge for four years that his own father had a strong motive for Larkin’s murder.
Brynn’s issues are less dramatic but equally poignant. She finds herself virtually friendless in a town that holds some of her worst childhood memories—including being rudely cast aside by Tripp. Her natural bent as an investigative journalist makes it naturally hard for her to be sensitive to others and view their problems as real issues more so than evidence or story beats.
Watching Brynn and Tripp slowly find their way both alone and later together is truly heartwarming.
2. Brynn and Tripp’s development as individuals and as friends was a delight, but their slow growth as lovers was the icing on the cake. When enemies and/or opposites fall for each other in a Karen McManus book, it is art. Hilarious, distressing, heartwarming, triumphant art. That trend is not broken with this book. So, watching Brynn and Tripp deny and fight their growing feelings before ultimately realizing that it has been them the whole time just hits all the right notes for all the right reasons.
3. This book’s use of its own true-crime premise as a launching pad for subtle references to McManus’s previous books was a masterstroke of genius that I did not see coming but enjoyed thoroughly. If there’s one thing I love, it is carefully crafted connected universes—be they in movies or TV or books. And Nothing More to Tell is most definitely the genesis of what I think I’ll call The McManusverse.
One of Us is Next was technically the first of McManus’s books to feature characters or continuing storylines from another, but Nothing More to Tell is the first indication that every one of McManus’s books thus far exists in the same universe. The callouts are not ostentatious or distracting—nor should they be. But they are there. The subtle references to “the Echo Ridge case” or “the Story case” or “what happened in Carlton.”
Nothing More to Tell is a standalone book that can be enjoyed on its own terms; but if you have read McManus’s previous books, the references will be a nice treat for your diligence. Really, I think that’s the test of quality for any shared universe: how well each link stands on its own. And this one definitely left me joyously wondering just how long it’ll be before some of McManus’s protagonists from these separate stories begin meeting each other.
*One small note: The last McManusverse reference—a nod to Maeve Rojas and Mikhail Powers near the very end—did seem like maybe a half-step too far. It came out of the blue, and it almost felt tacked on to indicate that the One of Us is books (which had not been referenced until then) occur in the same universe as the others.
Now, the bad:
1. This book’s story felt rather bland on many levels. Karen McManus took the world by storm with One of Us is Lying’s unique approach to presenting the flaws and problems of teens and building a mystery that they had to confront their various vices to solve. More, the twist of the mystery and the according social commentary was just so sobering that it couldn’t help but stick with you. However, five books later, it feels to me like the stories from most of McManus’s other works have been slightly-to-largely failed attempts at getting back to that high-water mark.
Nothing More to Tell’s premise, for instance, drew me in like a shot; but the mystery really didn’t live up to the hype. Much of it felt like throwing a bunch of guesses at the wall until something stuck, and there are a metric ton of red herrings and leads that go nowhere.
Many of this book’s plot points and characters felt like reductive rehashes of more moving or nuanced variants from McManus’s previous books. Brynn and Tripp’s romance feels at times like a lesser send-up of the iconic Nate and Bronwyn love story from One of Us is Lying. Tripp’s parental problems ring in as weaker reminiscences of Nate’s. The drama of Brynn’s keeping from her friends the details of her Motive internship—and the eventual fallout of that choice—resemble the Jonah North imposter situation from The Cousins. Ellie, this book’s obligatory gay character, feels like a less complicated and stereotypically perfect version of Maeve Rojas. (Ellie herself even makes a joke about this near the book’s end.)
Mind you, Nothing More to Tell is still QUITE good. Its story just doesn’t move the needle like One of Us is Lying’s did.
2. This is the second of McManus’s books (the first was You’ll Be the Death of Me) in which the INSANE requirement of suspension of disbelief distracted me from the story.
You’ll Be the Death of Me required that the reader suspend reality to digest its premise that three kids basically discovered and squashed a statewide drug ring, stumbled upon a murder, busted the murderer, and solved all of their years-festered emotional problems in fewer than twenty-four hours.
Nothing More to Tell requires the same suspension but for different reasons. By the end, it turns out that so many people with motives for murder fought or argued with or otherwise interacted with Mr. Larkin in the minutes before his death that it begs belief. The story does eventually reveal Larkin to be quite a shady man beneath the surface, so it makes sense that plenty of people wouldn’t like him. But still, the notion that SO MANY of them randomly happened to converge one by one upon him right before his death without running into each other is too much of a stretch.
3. The two ending twists felt like butt pulls to me. Nothing More to Tell spent so much time running down red herrings that it seemed as if the ending was just about exposing the only characters who either hadn’t been accused or hadn’t had their darkest secrets revealed as the guilty parties. An afterthought wrap-up.
Also, this book is McManus’s third (after The Cousins and You’ll Be the Death of Me) to feature the open closure concept in which a criminal culprit is revealed at the end but in which the capture or punishment of that culprit is left an unanswered question. The trope just barely worked for me in The Cousins, it fell flat for me in You’ll Be the Death of Me, and I didn’t like its inclusion any better here.
• BRASS TACKS •
Nothing More to Tell is a strongly written novel with a great hook and gripping character development. The use of the true-crime premise to catalyze callbacks to McManus’s other novels is an extra reward for longtime fans. The story wobbles a bit, however, when it comes to the execution of the main murder mystery. Some of the plotlines feel derivative of more moving arcs from McManus’s earlier novels. And the ending, while surprising, leaves a little to be desired. All in all, a good but not perfect read.
• MY RATING •
I give Karen M. McManus’s Nothing More to Tell three and a half cronuts out of five.