We Were Liars

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We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (get it HERE)

I’m terrible. I read this book a few months ago and am only just now getting around to writing a review. Thank goodness for snow days. I do want to start by saying I loved this book. So much so that I picked up another one of E. Lockhart’s books, The Boyfriend List, while at Edward McKay’s two weeks ago. I have high hopes. Currently I’m reading Winter Girls by Laurie Halse Anderson, but Lockhart’s book is next on my list of books to read. I’ll try and keep my review “brief”, however if you’ve read any of my other reviews you know that might not happen.

We Were Liars follows the Sinclair family. The Sinclairs are rich, athletic (they play all the right sports), beautiful, they have servants, money, stiff upper lips, vote Democrat (so you know they are old money), they go to the right schools, play an excellent game of tennis, and spend their summers on a private island…basically they are a living Ralph Lauren ad. In the Sinclair family “No one is a criminal. No one is an addict. No one is a failure” or so we are told. But don’t forget, they are liars.

So let me set this up a bit, who are the liars? Supposedly the liars are three teenage cousins, Johnny, Mirren, and Cadence (the narrator). They also have 3 younger cousins who pop in and out of the story. The three are cousins through their mothers who are sisters, all of whom have failed marriages (but they aren’t failures, remember). The liars spend their summers on their Grandfather’s private island off the cost of New England. One summer Johnny brings his friend Gat to the island (and every summer after that), for Cadence its love at first sight, for Gat it’s a life lesson on social classes.  Gat is not only Johnny’s friend, his uncle is also dating Johnny’s mother.  Grandfather Sinclair will not acknowledge the romantic relationship, two different races means it’s not WASP relationship he will ever support.

As the book progresses through the summers we suffer the death of Grandma Sinclair and begin to see the three sisters bicker over everything from tablecloths, to jewelry, trust funds, even each other’s summer houses. Grandfather Sinclair doesn’t help much. In fact he taunts the sisters with his money, creates arguments between the sisters and threatens to give all the money to Yale. The sisters threaten to cut off the liars when they will not write letters or tell Grandfather they admire or have always loved certain items (to ensure the sisters get whatever items they want). Grandfather Sinclair uses trust funds to attempt to get the liars to do his bidding (for example he tells Johnny if he doesn’t tell his mother to break off her relationship with Gat’s uncle he will give away his college fund. Johnny tells him to go ahead he can work through college).  The strain of rivalry, silence and greed begins to take over and rule the family.

As the years pass trouble on the island and within the family intensifies. Money is tight for the sisters, who do not go out and get jobs. I don’t believe any have ever worked, ever. Casual drinkers become drunks and greed and jealousy become all-consuming for the sisters.  And then summer 15 happens.

Summer 15 is when Cadence suffers a terrible accident which leaves her with amnesia and debilitating migraines. What happened to Cadence? Well, it’s a twist in the book you may or may not see coming, but it’s a great twist.  BUT I will tell you it’s another 2 years before Cadence returns to the island.  And when Cadence does return, it’s with a determination to find out what happened to her on the night of her accident. All Cadence can remember/knows is she is found on the far beach freezing, smelling of gasoline, and with a head injury.  At this point in the book the narrative jumps back and forth in time, yet Lockhart’s narrative remains idiomatic.  I’m not going to talk any more on the plot because I’m scared I will give something important away. But it is sooo good.

I really did enjoy this book and plan on rereading it this summer. I appreciate Lockart’s pithy observations and characterizations of WASP families, it’s as if she took An Official Preppy Handbook and turned it into a YAL book about a specific family. The Ivy League school, money, Martha’s Vineyard, Izod and Lily Pulitzer clad group is all there and spot on in both truth and a satirical manner. Moreover, there is an overtone of King Lear throughout the novel. The three useless daughters who all drink too much, contribute nothing, and fight each other for the largest portion of the family fortune all while completely ignoring their children.  In the meantime the next generation, the liars, are rebelling in their way against the “Sinclair rules” and falling in love with the wrong types, i.e. not WASPs, fomenting revolutions against their mothers, and refusing to participate in the game of who gets the most of granddad’s money.

My only complaint about We Were Liars is I feel there is never any real closure with Cadence and perhaps it is because there cannot be. Once she finds out about the night of her accident there is an extraordinary amount of guilt she must live with and will most likely never recover from. And one has to wonder if she achieved the liars goal, the sisters seem better after Cadence’s accident, less focused on money, but we never discover anything deep about the family. I think it’s because there is nothing there to any of the others.  It’s as if no one else in the family has any genuine characterization, or is this arguably because they are designed to be flat characters, what you see if what you get.

Ok, I’m going to stop now because I could probably write 8 random pages on this book. If anyone has read We Were Liars and wants to discuss it, I’d love to!

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