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They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman: FAQs + Books Like It

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

Ever since I read the Privilege series by Kate Brian in high school, I've been hooked on books about elite schools with a dark side. So, as soon as I came across They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman which is a mashup of my two favorite "genres" - dark academia and murder mystery - it became a must-read. (Kindle | Kobo | Paperback)

Now that I've finished it, I'm here to answer a handful of questions I had prior to and while reading the book. I've also included a list of five books like They Wish They Were Us for you to check out next if that's something you'd be interested in. (Warning: This article contains spoilers)

They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman

What is the Book They Wish They Were Us About?

Jessica Goodman's book, They Wish They Were Us, is a fictional murder mystery about the death of 15-year-old, Shaila Arnold. The book is narrated by her best friend, Jill Newman, and takes place three years after Shalia's murder.

Everyone believes Graham Calloway killed his girlfriend Shalia and Jill believed it too until Graham's sister, Rachel, sends her a cryptic text that says things aren't what they seem. Rachel's plea for help plants a seed of doubt in Jill's mind that she can't shake and before long the two are working together to uncover the truth about what happened that night and find out if the right person is the one behind bars.

Is There A Book Before They Wish They Were Us?

No - there is no book before They Wish They Were Us. It is a standalone murder mystery/thriller.

How Long Does It Take to Read They Wish They Were Us?

According to How Long to Read, it will take the average reader approximately 5 hours and 3 minutes to read They Wish They Were Us.

Does They Wish They Were Us Have Romance?

No - there is no romance in They Wish They Were Us. The focus is on Jill trying to solve the mystery of Shalia's death, not on her romantic relationship with Henry or Adam.

What Are the Main Character in They Wish They Were Us?

Given how many characters are in They Wish They Were Us, here's a list of the main ones and their relationships to one another for you to reference:

  • Jill Newman - 18, Narrator, Henry's girlfriend, Jard's older sister

  • Shalia Arnold - Murdered 3 years ago at 15, Jill's best friend

  • Graham Calloway - Shalia’s boyfriend, presumed responsible for Shalia's death

  • Adam Miller - 21, Jared's tutor, Jill's long-time crush

  • Rachel Calloway - 21, Adam’s ex, Graham’s older sister

  • Henry - Jill’s boyfriend

  • Nikki Wu - Jill’s best friend

  • Quentin - Jill's friend

  • Robert - Jill's friend, Graham’s former best friend

  • Marla - Jill's friend

  • Jared Newman - Jill’s younger brother

  • Bryce Miller - Adam’s younger brother

Who Is the Killer in They Wish They Were Us?

The killer in They Wish They Were Us is Adam Miller. Shalia had been cheating on her boyfriend with Adam but rejected him after he gifted her a pair of diamond earrings. He then attempted to apologize and get her back at Player initiation night, only for her to reject him again. Adam doesn't take the rejection well and the two get into a physical fight. Shalia is killed after Adam pushes her and proceeds to frame Graham, her boyfriend, for the murder.

How Does the Book They Wish They Were Us End?

After discovering the diamond earrings Shalia mentioned in her letters in Adam's bedside table, Jill tells Rachel and the two plan to confront him with Nikki's help. Mic'd up in hopes of recording his confession, Jill presses Adam on the beach for the truth about Shalia and gets him to confess to the murder. Adam then attacks Jill and Rachel but is stopped when Nikki hits him with her field hockey stick and knocks him unconscious.

Adam is arrested and set to jail to await trial, while Graham is released and goes to live with Rachel in New York City. Jill and Nikki return for their last day of high school and abolish the Players during a final bonfire party.

5 Books Like They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman

If you're as big a fan of books that fuse together the thriller and dark academia genre as I am and are looking for books like They Wish They Were Us to read next, then you've come to the right place because here are five similar recommendations for you to check out:

Good Girls Lie by J.T. Ellison

1. Good Girls Lie by J.T. Ellison

Good Girls Lie by J.T. Ellison is what the writer of Crime By the Book calls a popcorn thriller. This means, "it's one of those page-turning suspense novels that are lighter in subject matter, jam-packed with entertainment value, and beg to be devoured whole." Not to mention, it's also about a death of a student at an elite high school just like They Wish They Were Us. Just read this snippet from the description and you'll see just how similar these two books are: "In a world where appearances are everything, as long as students pretend to follow the rules, no one questions the cruelties of the secret societies or the dubious behavior of the privileged young women. When a popular student is found dead, the truth cannot be ignored."

In My Dreams I Hold a Knife by Ashley Winstead

2. In My Dreams I Hold a Knife by Ashley Winstead

Imagine if instead of taking place three years after Shalia's death, They Wish They Were Us took place a decade later. If that was the case, you'd basically have In My Dreams I Hold a Knife by Ashley Winstead. Just read the description and you'll quickly see how much the two books have in common: "Jessica Miller plans to triumphantly return to Duquette University for her ten-year reunion and flaunt her achievements to her friend group, formerly known as the East House Seven. She thinks she's coming back to campus to bask in a wave of glory, but she and her friends have no idea that someone has set an elaborate trap to catch the real killer and close the cold case for good."

If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio

3. If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio

By far and away the most popular book on this list is If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio. It has been rated over 150,000 times on Goodreads and has racked up an impressive 4.22 out of 5-star rating. Not only does that make me confident that it's going to be an entertaining read, but I also know that it has the same dark academia murder mystery vibe you already know and liked from They Wish They Were Us. For those of you who haven't heard of it, here's a brief description: "A decade ago, Oliver Marks was one of seven young actors studying Shakespeare at an elite arts college. But when the casting changes, and the secondary characters usurp the stars, the plays spill dangerously over into life, and one of them is found dead."

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

4. The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

Alex Michaelides' widely popular dark academia thriller book, The Maidens, is similar to They Wish They Were Us in a lot of ways. However, there are also some key differences so it shouldn't feel predictable or like a repeat. Take a look at the description and you'll see what I mean: "Mariana Andros is a brilliant but troubled group therapist who becomes fixated on The Maidens when one member, a friend of Mariana’s niece Zoe, is found murdered at Cambridge University. Mariana, who was once herself a student at the university, quickly suspects that behind the idyllic beauty of the spires and turrets, and beneath the ancient traditions, lies something sinister. She becomes convinced that, despite his alibi, the beloved Greek Tragedy professor Edward Fosca is guilty of the murder. But can she prove it in time to save another life?"

Bunny by Mona Awad

5. Bunny by Mona Awad

When I read the description of Bunny, I realized it had quite a bit in common with They Wish They Were Us: Samantha is a scholarship student in a highly selective program at Warren University in New England when she receives an invitation to her rich classmates, who call themselves 'the Bunnies,' fabled 'Smut Salon.' From there, she plunges deeper and deeper into the Bunnies' sinister yet saccharine world." Despite these similarities and the fact that this book was even nominated for Best Horror Book in 2019 by Goodreads, consider this your warning that this book will be weird. Past readers use the words strange, bizarre, and what the fuck repeatedly in their reviews. But Riley's review sums it up best: "Weirdest book I've read in my life and I don't know if I loved it or hated it but it was amazing and broke my brain."


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