Karen McManus' Favorite Young Adult Ensemble Casts

Posted by Cybil on December 5, 2019
Bestselling YA author Karen M. McManus knows a thing or two about dynamite ensemble casts. Her hit debut, One of Us Is Lying, took a Breakfast Club–style group of high schoolers and added murder-mystery to the mix to create one of the most talked about young adult books of 2017.

The Massachusetts-based novelist has since deployed her multi-POV skills in Two Can Keep a Secret, a thriller about disappearing girls in a secretive Vermont town and a nominee in this year’s Goodreads Choice Awards. And next month her ensemble magic will be back on display in One of Us Is Next, the hugely anticipated sequel to One of Us Is Lying.

The book returns to Bayview High, where a new mystery grips the school a year after four students were dramatically cleared of killing a fifth during detention. Now students are being targeted with a dangerous texting game of Truth or Dare, where no answer is safe and the dares soon become deadly.

McManus took time out of her busy schedule—she also just visited the Vancouver set of the TV pilot of One of Us Is Lying—to share some of her favorite ensemble casts in YA.


It’s no secret that I love a good ensemble cast. My debut, One of Us Is Lying, was partly inspired by the iconic Breakfast Club crew, and I’ve written multi-POV ever since. There’s something fascinating about watching people who initially seem to have nothing in common get thrown together by forces beyond their control and try to survive both the situation and one another.

Perspectives shift, labels peel off, and by the end, our main characters might just have a newfound family. Here are a few of my favorite ensemble casts in YA.


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One of the best ensemble casts in YA fantasy, Six of Crows brings together a fascinating group of characters charged with pulling off the ultimate heist. Crime boss Kaz, master spy Inej, Grisha Nina, soldier Matthias, sharpshooter Jesper, and pampered son Wylan might not trust one another (or even like one another most of the time), but they need to work together to survive their mission—and come to terms with their painful pasts.





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The concept is brilliant: A socialite heiress teams up with a crew of drag queens to pull off high-stakes burglaries. It’s part Ocean’s Eleven, part The Bling Ring, and part RuPaul’s Drag Race. Each member of the crew (Margo, Axel, Joaquin, Leif, and Davon) has their own special skills and their own reasons for taking part, but one thing they have in common is knowing what it’s like to search for connection outside your family.





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I thought I’d taken on a big challenge having four main characters in One of Us Is Lying—but Redgate has seven. Each of them represents one of the seven deadly sins: lust, envy, greed, sloth, gluttony, wrath, and pride. But they’re not only that; they’re all three-dimensional, realistic teen characters. They all have something to hide, and when their lives intersect because of a school scandal, it’s fascinating to watch events unfold from their different perspectives.





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The whole Ember in the Ashes series is phenomenal, but I particularly loved the points of view in the third installment: former scholar slave Laia, model soldier–turned–outlaw Elias, and Blood Shrike enforcer Helene. Each has their own daunting quest, and their individual goals put them in one another’s paths and, often, at odds. Their world just keeps getting darker, and I can’t wait to find out what Tahir has in store for these fierce, determined characters in the fourth book.





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Founding families with magical powers charged with protecting a cursed town? Sign me up. When Violet comes to her mother’s hometown of Four Paths for the first time, she meets golden boy Justin, fierce Harper, and mysterious Isaac. They are not exactly instant friends—and the three Four Paths locals have their own complicated history—but they’ll have to put aside their differences to protect their town and their future.





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A great ensemble cast doesn’t always mean multiple perspectives. Claudia might be the one telling the story in this sparkling contemporary YA, but she’s surrounded by one of the most vividly written groups of characters I’ve read in a while. The book is full of authentic teen friendships, from charming love interest Gideon’s protectiveness toward his childhood bestie Noah to the epic enemies-to-friends arc of Claudia and Iris.





What are some of your favorite YA ensemble casts? Share your recommendations in the comments!

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