One Killer Problem | Justine Pucella Winans

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Out Now from HarperTeen; 336 pages

Content Warning: Murder, kidnapping, violence, homophobia, classism, foul language.

About the Author: “Justine Pucella Winans (they/she) is a queer and nonbinary writer who lives in Los Angeles with their husband and incredible Halloween-colored cats. Their books include YA mysteries like the critically acclaimed Indies Introduce title, Bianca Torre Is Afraid of Everything, and One Killer Problem. Their MG speculative horror titles include the acclaimed Stonewall Honor Book, The Otherwoods and Wishbone. When not writing queer, creepy, and funny fiction for kids and teens, they can be found training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, reading (a lot of) manga and webcomics, and actively avoiding real life scary situations” (Bio from author’s website).

Find Justine Pucella Winans on the following platforms:


“I’m kind of an asshole. I get angry easily. I’m more of a little shit than serious. I’m the kind of person who will punch first and ask questions later. I know what I am, and I know what I’m not.”

UFC-loving bisexual mess Gigi Ricci never planned on joining the smallest club at her high school, Mystery and Thriller Literary Scholars (more affectionately known as “Mystery Club”). However, when her best friend, Sean, and her crush, Mari, need to recruit ten members and a faculty advisor to keep their beloved club operational, Gigi reluctantly signs on. She never expects to have to put in much work, much less solve a real mystery. After a suspicious death on school grounds is quickly labeled as an accident, though, Gigi finds herself splitting time between practicing jiu jitsu and hunting down a killer. As Gigi navigates both a complex murder investigation and messy relationships within a large, queer friend group, she begins to question whether the murderer could be one of the people closest to her.

Finally, a queer book where queerness is not treated as the central “issue” of the text! One of my favorite aspects was Gigi’s nonbinary parent. Nonbinary fictional characters tend to be Gen Z, supporting the false notion that being nonbinary is a “new fad.” The author effectively demonstrates how non-binary gender identities can be normalized for people of any age. Despite my appreciation for the representation in the book, it had several flaws that detracted from my overall enjoyment. Some conversations felt repetitive, like they were rehashing conflicts that had already been resolved. Overall, I just didn’t feel that invested into many of the relationships because I was not able to invest in the individuals. Too many characters were introduced way too quickly, and, as a result, very few characters feel sufficiently fleshed out. Imagine my disappointment when the character I felt most curious about turned out to be the murder victim! The protagonist felt more nuanced and had a very distinctive voice, but I would not describe her as likable, despite how almost every character fawns over her at one point or another. While this was not my favorite read of all time, it has several characteristics that will appeal to a contemporary high school audience. If you love cat puns, queer characters trying to figure themselves out, and pop culture references from The Godfather to Taylor Swift, this might be the mystery for you!

Pine Reads Review would like to thank SparkPoint Studio, NetGalley, and HarperTeen for sending us an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Any quotes are taken from an advanced copy and may be subject to change before final publication.

Ashley Amacher, Pine Reads Review Assistant Director & Lead Editor


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