A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Practically a mini-tour of London with visits to the Tower of London (with extra emphasis on learning about the deaths of the wives of Henry VIII), a tea room, a Jack the Ripper tour, the London Eye giant Ferris wheel, the Tube, the Thames, Westminster Abbey, and other famous spots. Discussions of the origins of Bonfire Night and what a proper English breakfast looks like.
Friendship and how important it is to be truthful to friends and stick by them. The search for justice and truth.
Positive Role Models
Stevie is always driven to solve her case and here she's so driven that she lies to her school advisor and her best friends so she can keep working. She feels terrible, comes clean, and learns a lesson about what her friends mean to her. And as usual in the series, Stevie frowns upon any sensationalism around crime. She walks away from a Jack the Ripper tour after the guide seems to delight in sharing the gory details.
The LGBTQ+ community is well represented, with gay and lesbian characters, an asexual character and a character who uses they/them pronouns. Some racial diversity among Stevie's friends who are Black and Asian American. Also diversity among the nine friends in their forties with one Black woman doctor and a man described as having dark brown skin who has a common Indian name (though it's never specified that he's of Indian descent).
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Violence & Scariness
The story revolves around the axe murder of two college graduates. There are flashbacks with details of how it happened and how the bodies were found and the shock that followed, but with little gore described. Two women are found drowned with details including a hinted-at sexual assault, a drugging, and one woman being held underwater. A panic attack. Details about the deaths of Henry VIII's wives, especially Ann Boleyn's execution by sword.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Kissing and undressing with much talk about a teen couple deciding to have sex for the first time -- the discussion includes contraception. Kissing in a bar. Plenty of sexual innuendo and humor -- friends in their forties recalling their college days talk of having a tent in their backyard they called the "shag factory." They also recall all the shifting of sexual partners that took place in their friend group and friends kissing at a bar and cheating on each other.
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There's a wide array of swearing, including "f--k," but rarely.
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Products & Purchases
Many mentions of bands Oasis and Blur. British snack foods and stores mentioned as well as some car models.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
All the flashback chapters to 1995 feature characters in their early 20s and are full of heavy drinking, especially champagne and whisky and there are scenes of throwing up and passing out. Plus most of the main characters from that time smoke heavily (except the future doctor and one other friend). There are also many references to weed. One character talks of consequences he suffered from his heavy drinking and drug use. Later in life he would go to rehab and therapy and is now sober. In the present, 16-year-old Americans in England are excited to learn that they are allowed drinks with a meal, so they give it a try but don't overindulge. Only one present-day teen character gets drunk on beer and vodka sodas.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Maureen Johnson's Nine Liars is a mystery featuring the teen sleuth Stevie Bell from the popular Truly Devious series. Like Book 4, The Box in the Woods, Nine Liars is included as part of that series, but can also be considered a stand-alone mystery. And like all the books featuring Stevie Bell, there are murders to solve and diverse characters facing relatable high school problems, making the books a good fit for high school readers on up. There's excessive drinking and smoking, but mostly in the flashbacks and with the college grad-age characters. The high school characters, 16-year-old Americans in the United Kingdom, are suddenly faced with more legal drinking options. Only one character overindulges and the rest stick to drinks at a pub with meals. A teen couple almost has sex for the first time, with talk of condom use. There's plenty of sexual innuendo and humor -- old friends recalling their college days talk of having a tent in their backyard they called the "shag factory." There's a wide array of swearing, including "f--k," but rarely. The story revolves around the axe murder of two college graduates in the 1990s. There are flashbacks with details of how it happened and how the bodies were found and the shock that followed, but with little gore described. Two women are found drowned with details including a hinted-at sexual assault, a drugging, and one woman being held underwater. The LGBTQ+ community is well represented, with gay and lesbian characters, an asexual character, and a character who uses they/them pronouns. There's some racial diversity among Stevie's friends who are Black and Asian American. Stevie relies heavily on her friends and learns a hard lesson when she lies to them. As usual, her focus on solving a case is admirable. She takes in every detail and communicates her findings with care. And as usual in the series, she frowns upon any sensationalism around crime. She walks away from a Jack the Ripper tour after the guide seems to delight in sharing the gory details.
Is It Any Good?
Popular teen sleuth Stevie Bell stars in this fresh, hip take on the English-country-manor mystery. Author Maureen Johnson always picks the most iconic settings for her cold cases, first a secluded Vermont boarding school in the original Truly Devious trilogy, then a summer camp in The Box in the Woods. Nine Liars splits its time between London and the manor, between the present and the past. In 2022 Stevie arrives in London on a barely sanctioned school trip -- mostly to see her boyfriend David at his new school. In 1995, college friends arrive at an English manor house to celebrate their graduation for one booze-fueled night, one that ends in a double murder. The two storylines converge when Stevie meets David's friend Izzy, the niece of Angela, one of the old college friends. While it's hard to believe, even with Stevie's well-earned reputation, that she would get roped into an investigation in a foreign country at age 16, that's exactly what happens when Angela goes missing. And she's awfully lucky when Angela's safe full of evidence turns up.
The rest isn't luck, however. When Stevie interrogates her subjects she's all business and focus, when she notices things no one else does, she's brilliant as usual. You know she'll solve the case, but at what cost to her friendships and her love life, and how much trouble is she really in at school? Trips to the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey are on their carefully crafted itinerary, not trips to remote country crime scenes surrounded by possible suspects. Scratch that -- one of the remaining college friends is definitely the murderer. Add to all those stressors the real time crunch Stevie is in. She has to find a missing person and solve the cold case, and have a deeply meaningful night in London with her boyfriend before hopping back on the plane in a few days' time. Readers will be as frantic as Stevie to get to the finish line and find out how it all ends.
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.