They Wish They Were Us
Author: Jessica Goodman
Length: 10 hours
Narrator: Kristen Sieh
Publisher: Listening Library
Original Publication Date: 2020
Genre(s): Young adult, Mystery, Contemporary
It’s Jill’s senior year, which means she’s finally at the top of the Players, an elite group of students that run Gold Coast Prep. To get in, you have to be selected during your freshman year and successfully complete a series of sorority/fraternity-like challenges, all leading up to initiation night. During Jill’s freshman year, one of them died that very night: her best friend, Shaila. She was murdered by her boyfriend Graham, another freshman Player. Since then, Jill has tried to move on, to survive high school. And now, she’s finally a senior, and she gets to initiate the new freshman. This year will be different. But then she starts receiving texts proclaiming Graham’s innocence. It’s inconceivable — but what if it’s true? Is the killer still among them?
I am so glad I decided to read this book after all. When I heard Netflix was adapting it, I added it to my TBR. Then I removed it because I thought it sounded dumb as I skimmed some Goodreads reviews. But alas, I added back to my TBR and decided to read it after all, because I usually like books that have bad ratings. And I was right – this one had me hooked from beginning to end.
They Wish They Were Us is told in first-person POV from Jill’s perspective. The story is all told in present day, but often Jill thinks back to moments from her past, typically freshman year when Shaila was still alive. Both timelines had me captivated: the past because of the “pops” (the challenges they had to complete) and Shaila’s impending death, and the present because clearly the murderer is still among them. I bounced back and forth between who I thought the murderer was, and in the end one of my guesses was right, so I’m pretty satisfied with myself. I wouldn’t say it’s ridiculously hard to guess — if you’ve read many other YA murder mysteries, this one is pretty on par with all the others. And I really enjoyed it.
The novel is definitely like chips for your brain. If you go into this expecting some in-depth murder mystery with sophisticated themes and likable characters, you’ll more than likely be disappointed. I’ve never read or watched Gossip Girl, but I imagine this novel is a more contemporary take on that type of story, plus murder. All the characters attend an exclusive private school, most of them are rich, and almost all of them are intolerable. There’s lots of drama and things that feel totally unbelievable, but that’s what makes it a fun story. The Players all think they’re hot shit, but Jill, whose not really a rich girl like the others, starts to see their true colors — and reflects on the person she’s become over the last four years. All while trying to solve a three-year old murder.
Though there is a murder, this book is neither spooky nor scary. There’s some suspense and thrill, but it’s basically just your average YA murder mystery. I surprisingly really enjoyed it. Probably because I went into it expecting so little. Or, more that my expectations were realistic, that it would be an entertaining story about rich kids that will plain and simple entertain you. And I loved it.