68 pages 2 hours read

Gretchen McNeil


Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2018

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Summary and Study Guide


Falsely convicted of murdering her stepsister, 17-year-old Dee Guerrera fights for her life on a prison island where serial killers execute inmates live on camera in Gretchen McNeil’s dystopian YA horror thriller, #MurderTrending (2018). Dee and four other wrongly imprisoned teens, Nyles, Griselda, Ethan, and Mara, struggle to prove their innocence and expose the conspiracy between the corrupt United States government and the Postman, the mysterious television mogul who runs the prison. McNeil explores themes of perseverance, justice, the dangers of privatizing the penal system, and the desensitizing effects of social media. #MurderTrending contains content that may be upsetting for some readers, but McNeil balances the bloodshed with campy dark humor. #MurderTrending was followed by the sequel, #MurderFunding (2019), and a prequel, #NoEscape (2020).

The pagination in this guide refers to the 2018 Freeform Books edition.

Content Warning: The source material includes descriptions of abduction, torture, murder, and graphic violence, as well as sexual references, objectification, and harassment.

Plot Summary

Dee wakes up after a sham trial and finds herself in a kill room on Alcatraz 2.0. Dee is dressed as Cinderella and knows that Prince Slycer will stab her live before millions of users on the Postman app.

The Postman convinced the US president to let him control capital punishment. The more entertaining an execution is, the greater the ratings and profit on the app. Serial killers murder inmates in dramatic, themed events. Each killer has a unique, masked persona and method of killing. These “Painiacs” have huge fan followings and their kills rack up user views. Young, attractive inmates also have a large fan base, boosting ratings.

Throughout the narrative, fans comment about the events on Alcatraz 2.0.

Dee is innocent of strangling her stepsister, Monica. Dee wants to find Monica’s killer and prove her innocence. Largely accidentally, Dee kills Slycer. Users give her the hashtag #CinderellaSurvivor. Dee also has a secret: As an 11-year-old, she was abducted, kept in a white, windowless room, and tortured by an older blond girl named Kimmi who wanted Dee to be her sister. Dee eventually escaped, and Kimmi was sent to a psychiatric hospital. Dee has trauma from this experience and hates the Postman app.

Nyles, a blond British boy around Dee’s age, takes Dee to her job at the ice cream store. All the inmates on Alcatraz have jobs where they earn credits to buy food. They live in duplexes. In each duplex, a TV replays recent kills with a scrolling comment feed. Cameras disguised as crows monitor everything outside, while other cameras observe interior spaces.

At I Scream, Dee meets the catty Griselda, who dresses provocatively to encourage her fan base and extend her life. Blair, Dee’s boss, teaches Dee basic survival rules. Dee meets Ethan, a bubbly jock who loves action movies and Griselda. They witness an inmate get devoured by sharks when he tries to swim off the island. Drones film his death.

A Painiac called Gucci Hangman decapitates Blair. Gucci carves a heart on Blair’s body like the one Dee found carved on Monica’s shoulder, which makes Dee think that the Postman knows about her and Kimmi. Nyles, Griselda, Ethan, and Dee meet in a camera-free part of the island. Dee wants to prove her innocence and needs the others’ help, though she distrusts them. They agree, hoping to prove their own innocence. Nyles will try to get a message to Dee’s dad through his attorneys.

Mara, Dee’s shy, redheaded neighbor, studies the Painiacs and claims to know their real identities. The next execution is Dr. Farooq, a psychiatrist who testified against the teens. She is impaled on a giant target by Robin’s Hood. Dee wonders if Kimmi’s dad is the Postman.

Nyles and Griselda are captured and trapped in a glass box that is slowly filling with water. With information from Mara, Dee, and Ethan raid a warehouse, take out the Hardy Girls killers, and rescue Nyles and Griselda. Dee is stunned to see a comment from her dad on the video replay saying that Kimmi was released, and that he is working to help her.

The friends discover that other inmates and guards on the island have been gassed to death. They search the guardhouse for an internet connection to tell the world about the conspiracy on Alcatraz 2.0. Ethan gets caught and executed by Cecil B. DeViolent. Griselda is devastated.

To expose the truth, Dee plans to get caught by a Painiac to get on camera. Then Mara disappears. Dee fails to save her from being gassed. Dee finds the body of Gassy Al, another killer, and suddenly understands everything. She fakes a fight with Nyles and Griselda and returns to Slycer’s maze to confront the rest of the Painiacs and the Postman.

Dee blows up the Barbaric Barista with his exploding Frisbees. She bests Robin’s Hood with more Frisbees and boils the cannibalistic chef Hannah Ball alive. She turns DIYnona’s molten wax trap against her. She and Nyles face Gucci Hangman and Cecil B. DeViolent. Dee sets them both on fire. They battle Molly Mauler, and Dee releases ravenous wolves to eat Molly.

When Prince Slycer appears, Dee knows it is Kimmi. Kimmi confesses everything. Kimmi's dad was both the Postman and the first Slycer. The Postman killed Monica. Kimmi ran the island and plotted to get Dee there so they could be sisters. Kimmi killed or had everyone else killed. She originally abducted Dee because of a poem Dee wrote about wanting a sister.

Griselda broadcasts Kimmi’s confession live from Kimmi’s laptop. Enraged, Kimmi attacks Griselda. Dee intervenes and stabs Kimmi, who dies, still thinking she and Dee would have been great sisters.

Dee, Nyles, and Griselda wait for help to arrive. Comment feeds say the president will be impeached, and the FBI is investigating other government officials. Nyles and Dee share a kiss as a crow camera swivels to watch them.