We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
I really enjoyed this book; it was fast-paced and intriguing, it kept me guessing, kept me curious from start to finish. I think it was well thought out, and the characters were perfectly described and fleshed out. Lockhart did a great job in creating this perfectly imperfect, wealthy East Coast family. I read this in less than 24 hours, with roughly a 10 hour nap in there somewhere, so it’s a quick, easy read that grips you and pulls you along; it demands to be read.
Cady is the oldest grandchild of the Sinclair family, she’s nearly 18 and is recovering from an accident that she can’t quite remember the details of, and we as readers find out about as she does along the way. We see her growing up through various snapshots of her summer vacations on an island in Martha’s Vineyard where her family owns several houses — there’s a main house (Clairmont, where her grandfather and grandmother live during the summer) and three other houses (one for each of their daughters and the grandchildren.) Cady has two cousins that are roughly her age, just a bit younger, Johnny and Mirren. She has a few younger cousins as well who come to the island every summer. When she is 8 years old, the nephew of her aunt’s boyfriend comes with, and together she, Johnny, Mirren and Gat become inseparable during the summers. They are the liars.
Gat and Cady start forming a more romantic bond around when Cady is 14. Around that summer, her grandmother dies, and this puts a lot of strain on her grandfather and the relationship between him and his daughters. The aunts are always fighting, always arguing over who gets what, whose children will get what, and the four liars are witness to this outwardly perfect and pristine family falling apart on the inside.
When Cady is fifteen, she has her accident. She wakes up in the ocean, has hit her head, spends a lot of time in the hospital recovering. She gets migraines that leave her unable to function for days at a time. Her father, who divorced her mother when she was younger, takes her on a trip to Europe the next summer and she misses going to the island. She doesn’t hear from the liars while she’s away, and she fears she is losing them as friends. The next summer she gets to return, she still has headaches, still doesn’t remember her accident completely, and finds that her grandfather has completely renovated the Clairmont house, she assumes to deal with the loss of her grandmother.
She reconnects with the liars, and finds that no one will talk to her about her accident. Everyone has been instructed by her doctors to let her remember on her own. She spends the time collecting little pieces of memories, trying to put it all together. She remembers the aunts fighting, she remembers the liars being fed up with how everyone was acting. She remembers a fire.
The end of this book is brilliant. I was trying so hard to put the pieces together myself and just couldn’t get there. Lockhart reveals everything perfectly and seamlessly, and once you know, you find you knew the whole time. All the clues were there, and they make perfect sense. The crumb trail that is weaved into the story is so delicate and precise, you can’t help but be in awe of Lockhart’s imagination and writing. She does a wonderful job as a story teller.
Throughout the book Lockhart’s writing is very lyrical; she uses unique line breaks and repetitions in areas that I think really help the reader. I loved how the line breaks forced me to slow down and take in those moments of the story, and the repetition of certain lines and names clued me into important messages and Cady’s thoughts. I thought it was poetic and hauntingly beautiful; it really made this work stand out in its delivery and not just in its content.
Lockhart also has Cady retell her family’s story as a fairy tale several times throughout; different “variations” of her family’s life. She makes her grandfather the king and her aunts and mother the princesses, and integrates the themes into those stories to further underline main topics, and to help the readers understand the Sinclairs. It’s as if Cady uses these stories to cope with her family’s issues, and at the same time they help the reader relate to Cady’s feeling of needing to cope with family issues. I thought these additions were really unique and a pleasure to read; they were stories within a story and were just as imaginative and heartbreakingly emotional as the story itself.
You could say there are aspects to this story that have been done before (that is all I will say because I am not going to give any spoilers for this one, the ending is too good, you need to read it for yourself) but I think everything around those aspects is fresh and lively. Lockhart puts a new twist on some been-done-before plot devices, and you should not miss her take on them.
The only thing that bothered me was the use of the word “Mummy.” Cady calls her mother Mummy, and it is just one of those words that I personally cannot stand. I think it does help to show the kind of class and wealth that belongs to the Sinclair name, but I was not a fan. Every time I read it, in my head I heard a little girl whining or a twenty-something man complaining to his mother (think the blue-blood guy Christina Ricci almost marries in the movie Penelope.) It just turned me off, and then every time I it came up, I was removed from the story a bit; the spell was broken just a little.
Overall, this was beautifully written and just really shows a master at work. Do not pass up Lockhart’s We Were Liars.
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
*cover art from Amazon.com