Book Review: People Like Us – 5/5 Stars

“People Like Us” by Dana Mele is a roller coaster ride from start to finish. The story begins with a headfirst dive into the lives of boarding school girls Kay, Brie, Tai, Maddy, and Tricia when it seems impossible to keep track of each of the different characters. At first, I had a hard time telling who was important and who I needed to remember. But down the road, I realized this was done intentionally and helped to submerge me further into the story. There isn’t any expository build-up, which might not normally not interest me. But it works incredibly well in this case, because by page three the girls find a body in a lake on their boarding school’s campus.

While I went in knowing that this was going to be a murder mystery, it was nothing like what I expected. From the back cover, we learn that our main character, Kay, is being harassed by a girl named Jessica Lane. I went into this book expected a scavenger hunt left behind by dead girl Jessica Lane — a la Hannah Baker of “13 Reasons Why” — but instead found myself in the midst of a true murder mystery. Good murder mysteries are hard to find in the world of young adult reading, but this one was well thought out. Each clue and new piece of evidence whirled the story forward, capturing me in its drama. I read a lot of murder mystery and find that I’m usually able to identify who the murderer is about halfway through the book. In “People Like Us”, I was unable to solve the mystery and often changed my opinions and ideas multiple times while trying to piece together the clues. Even within the last few pages, Mele continued to keep me guessing. Murder mysteries are often an epic climb to the climax of the final scene, leaving the reader to spend the entire novel waiting for the big finish. In the case of Mele’s novel, I enjoyed the journey and it more satisfying than the finale.

Mele does an amazing job of making the characters relatable and distinct. Each character seems to have their own unique story; they’re each struggling with something different from person-to-person, whether it be the loss of someone in their pasts, or their sexualities. The way Mele deals with sexuality is probably the best thing I’ve read all year, though. There are many bisexual and gay characters in “People Like Us” and it doesn’t feel like she’s trying to meet a quota. While I do greatly enjoy stories about LGBTQ characters and stories that are centered around their sexuality, I really, really love it when stories include gay characters without making the story about them being gay. Including gay characters in stories typically written with straight/cis characters (like murder mysteries) normalizes the inclusion of gay characters. Ultimately, doing this will lead to LGBTQ characters showing up in more places, like television, movies, and books. The more writers that do this, the more it will seem “normal” to have these characters around. I love nothing more than when I watch television or read a book and a character is LGBTQ. without it being a big deal. It reflects real life and normalizes LGBT people. We exist in real life; and we should exist in media, too.

Mele’s gay-inclusive murder mystery had me turning page after page until I reached the very end, only to leave me wanting more. More answers, more stories, more anything from Dana Mele.

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