This is the mysteriously murderous sequel to #MurderTrending, after the downfall of the Postman’s Alccatraz 2.0 the public is divided either in support of the show or in disgust. These two groups are both having a field day over the new show, Who Wants to be a Painiac? but there won’t be any real murder, right? (Seriously no murder, right??)
Trigger Warning: Murder, Mentioned Kidnapping, Political Conspiracies and Major Character Death.
I give this book 4.5 stars (out of five). I really liked the protagonist Becca and there was enough murder for it to fully live up to the first book and its title. But there was also still enough tension, waiting and actual story for it to make sense and be well structured, overall I really liked this book.
[Warning this summary is fully based on my memory, so if something is totally wrong that’s just me procrastinating too much before writing about this and misremembering certain details.]
This installment in the series covers the aftermath of the events of #MurderTrending, after the initial Postman show is shut down and revealed for what it really was. The previous protagonists Dee, Griselda and Nyles are all in various stages of recovery and hiding because there is so much controversy surrounding what happened on the Postman that lots of people aren’t even in support of them. The world is divided into the Fed-Xers and Postmantics, who are either completely against the idea of Postman and dedicate themselves to debunking the show and finding the identities of the old Painiacs, and people who are obsessed with Postman and overwhelmingly support it respectively.
They need to hide from both these groups of people now more than ever because the TV network is trying to replicate the success of Postman with a new show ‘Who Wants to be A Painiac?’, in which people have the opportunity to audition for the role of new Painiacs. This brings us to our new main characters Becca and Stef, Becca is just a normal high school student. She’s grieving for her mom who she recently lost to a car accident, starting at her funeral she sees a weird girl following her in the distance and eventually decides to confront her. Becca goes up to this girl and she reluctantly introduces herself as Stef and explains that she believes one of Becca’s moms (the dead one) was actually the Painiac Molly Mauler.
Later they meet up to go over Stef’s evidence and weird things start happening to Becca, her house is broken into and she gets the feeling that her mom Rita (the alive one) is hiding things from her. So to prove Stef wrong once and for all they decide to go to the auditions for the new show and try to gather evidence. If Becca can prove Stef wrong then she destroys all her gathered evidence and if Stef proves Becca wrong then she can release it. It would be absolutely disastrous to Becca and her family if that theory started getting popular because the Fed-Xers would probably try to kill them.
So they go to the auditions and through luck they actually make it into the final group of auditioners, where they make more friends like Coop and a few other characters whose names I am unfortunately forgetting. As they get farther and farther along the process of getting into the show things start feeling weird, there are many weird occurrences and things that don’t quite add up. Becca ventures off on her own to try and find some evidence but instead accidentally witnesses the murder of one of the other auditioners who was a government spy.
This is when Becca realizes that something horrible is going on and she has no way to get away, but she has to join the others heading to their filming location. She’s only able to communicate to Stef, Coop and their other friends about what she knows when they get there.
[Spoiler Warning for big twists, skip the rest of the summary to avoid them.]
When they are finally brought onto the filming location it’s revealed that instead of only an introduction to the set this is actually the first episode being broadcasted live of the new show, however Becca and her friends are not the hunters they are the hunted. As new Painiacs arrive with new and exciting ways to kill people, the mismatched group of auditioners must fight their way through many intense chases and challenges. Many of them do not make it out alive, but by working together and doing absolutely everything they can some of the main characters were able to survive and escape in the bus they drove to the location.
It’s important to mention that they had judges on the show who were family members of the original Painiacs, and one of them was actually Rita (Becca’s alive mom). When Rita recognized Becca she was distraught and actively sacrificed herself to the new Painiacs to save Becca and her friends. This sacrifice is important because it shows lots of growth and the connection between characters, before Rita knew that her partner was a Painiac and never said or did anything to now directly facing that to save her daughter. Rita was not killed in this event, she was only injured but the characters don’t know this at the time.
[Spoiler Warning for ending, skip to the end of the summary to avoid them.]
After they escape they quickly realize the police can’t help them so instead they flee to Coop’s house where it’s revealed that he’s actually the son of the Postman and Kimmi’s sister. This would initially make him seem dangerous but he was never really close to them and is only related by blood. This is also where the other characters meet up with them as Dee, Nyles and Gris find them because Dee is intent on finding the house she was held captive in as a child.
Together they decide to go back to Becca’s house and uncover the mysterious items hidden there. Now knowing the truth Becca thinks she knows where their true secrets are hidden and how they connect to the overarching danger. When they get there they dig up Becca’s mom’s (the dead one) grave and instead of an urn find her old scrapbooks, which she loved making. There they found pictures of her as Molly and with many of the other Painiacs and even with other influential people like the Postman and government officials.
But right as they’re discovering this information the people from the TV show (the main villains of the story) threaten the main characters and even use Rita (the alive mom) to black mail Becca. They have a twitter thread ready to post exposing everything and they have an intense standoff, where the bad guy doesn’t want her to post it and Becca wants her mom, herself and the others to be safe. In the end Becca subtly posted it and they noticed which led to Becca getting shot at, but at the last second she was saved by Stef who pushed her into the dug up grave and consequently got hit with the bullet intended for Becca. The police arrive and start helping the others back on the ground but in that grave Stef dies in Becca’s arms, finally admitting their romantic feelings for each other in her last moments.
The final ending is somewhat happy because Becca survives and the scandal/conspiracy has been uncovered and things are being done to stop them. But still isn’t an entirely perfect ending because Stef dies.
This is not at all what I expected for a sequel to #MurderTrending, not only does it mainly follow different characters but it takes place in a very different setting and while it still connects to the same overall storyline it still feels very new and unique.
Honestly I liked it just as much or more than the first book, I saw people giving it negative reviews for the fast paced storytelling and few plot holes but I personally like the writing style more. Whereas #MurderTrending lets the tension fully build before having big reveals and violent scenes, this book allows for things to happen totally out of nowhere and to have lots of it revolve around fast paced sequences and flight or fight moments. I really liked this style and it’s part of what made me enjoy the story so much, but I can see how others would prefer a different style.
[Spoiler Warning for the next six paragraphs, skip them to avoid.]
Despite being confused at first I still loved the new characters, I specifically loved Becca and Stef together and their entire story arc. This is one of the only ‘enemies to lovers’ arc I’ve seen in an actual novel instead of fanfiction and it works so well here, it’s probably my favourite part of the entire story.
I saw a few people online commenting that Becca and Stef didn’t know each other long enough to truly love each other, but honestly I don’t really think that is a valid criticism. First of all, if you’re in an ongoing life or death situation with someone you’re probably going to get closer to them and normal logic doesn’t necessarily apply. I also think they do know each other long enough to go from mutually hating each other, to reluctantly working together, to fighting to save each other, to Stef literally dying in Becca’s arms. Sure it isn’t the most fully fledged out romance but this also isn’t the main storyline it’s a plot line that happens within the story, I think their romance was very well done within the context of the story and I think there’s a lot of symbolism and cute moments in the way their relationship builds and ends.
For example, they met at Becca’s Mom’s (the dead one) funeral and the book ends at Stef’s funeral this not only shows that connection but the difference in both Becca as a character between the two scenes but also how she feels about Stef, herself and her family now that she knows the truth and was able to love Stef even if it was only briefly. I think my main point here is just because the relationship isn’t ideal and doesn’t last at all, it doesn’t mean that it’s forced or ingenuine.
Another thing I saw some people say about this book is that while it does have many LGBTQ+ characters it kills many of them off, which I simply do not agree with. Yes one of the main characters Stef who is LGBTQ+ gets killed, Becca’s mom as well (the dead one) and technically Rita (the alive one) is also heavily injured. However, all of these deaths make sense in the context of the story and it’s not like you don’t see the many straight and cisgender characters get killed off as well. It’s literally a book about murder, being gay isn’t going to save you from that becuase it’s part of the genre.
The idea of the people auditioning to become the next Painiacs actually becoming the ‘prey’ instead of the ‘predators’ is such a good twist and there was good tension because Becca found out what was going on but had no way of doing anything about it or even communicating with the others at first.
I also really liked the twist that Stef’s father was one of Molly’s victims because it totally explains each of their motivations. While Becca is going into it trying to protect her mom and her other family, Steff is sort of trying to do the same thing for her father because she wants justice and thinks she can get it by proving her theory.
This is the type of dystopian series that I can see realistically happening, obviously not to the full extent of the story but the justice system is already very corrupt in the modern day and the President of the United States where this story takes place was impeached very recently in 2021. These both relate directly to the storyline and are why I find this particular story so unnerving.
Some of the main villains from the story both the Fed-Xers and Postmantics, are even scarier because they don’t really seem that far off from modern internet age Stan Culture, and this is coming from someone who is literally a kpop stan. While the context immediately makes it a lot more extreme, starting riots and nearly killing people over Reality TV and internet sensations is honestly something I could see happening in America today.
Showing the readers Dee’s point of view as well as the current storyline was good and explained lots of stuff that later becomes important when the two sets of characters meet up towards the end of the book and the different perspectives collide.
There was this odd recurring phrase throughout the book that would appear whenever Becca seemed to be emotionally overwhelmed; ‘Can. Not. Hang.’ I’m not sure what it means but it’s a detail that I would like to point out. And one more random thing I wanted to quickly mention about Becca’s character is one specific scene where she risks her life to save someone even though they’d hated each other since the first day they met. Becca is a complicated character but this moment gave a bit more insight into her growth and how she acts under pressure.
This is the type of thriller where the kills aren’t too gruesome but they’re still creepy and scary, so I think it’s perfect for me and this series is definitely some of my favourite books from this genre. I loved the story, the characters and even the violence from this magic yet murderous tale.