Published by Random House Children's Books on May 13th 2014
Genres: Young Adult, Family, General, Social Themes, Death & Dying, Emotions & Feelings, Social Issues
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Read them and you hear echoes of one story inside another, then echoes of another inside that. So many have the same premise: once upon a time, there were three.
It is really best to start this book not knowing anything, not even reading the publisher’s summary. If you don’t like unreliable, amnesiac narrators, avoid.
“They know that tragedy is not glamorous. They know it doesn’t play out in life as it does on a stage or between the pages of a book. It is neither a punishment meted out nor a lesson conferred. Its horrors are not attributable to one single person. Tragedy is ugly and tangled, stupid and confusing.”
The beautiful and privileged Sinclair family meets at their small private island every summer. The main house is inhabited by the patriarch of the family Harris Sinclair and there are three additional houses for the families of his adult daughters to stay. The rivalry is strong between the three sisters, as they fight for what they all believe is the inheritance they deserve. The sisters attempt to use their children to manipulate their father’s decisions and Harris Sinclair loves playing mind games with the sisters. The story follows “The Liars,” the teenaged children of the sisters, from the perspective of oldest granddaughter Cadence. There is a really helpful map and family tree in the beginning of the book to help keep everyone straight. Kindle ebooks tend to automatically skip to the first page of the story, so you might miss it if you don’t flip back!
The Liars have a strong bond (their bond felt a little superficial to me) and Cadence loves spending time with her two cousins and a family friend during these idyllic family gatherings on the island. But there is one summer that Cadence can’t remember and the entire family seems dedicated to keeping the truth from her. She gets flashes of memory, but she can’t quite piece it all together. What happened that summer and why is everyone acting so cagey? What are they hiding from her?
The setting completely sold me on the book. It takes place on a small private island off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. I feel a weird nostalgia for quaint little towns on the waterfront. I blame Cynthia Voigt and Dawson’s Creek. I want to ride a boat to The Fudge Shoppe and the bookstore and then come back to my private island to make homemade ice cream and read on the beach! Minus the rich people drama, of course. ‘Mo money, ‘mo problems.
The atmosphere is really eerie and you can’t help but wonder what is up with these weirdo rich people and their cryptic dialogue. Superficially everything seems perfect, but there is something sinister just under the surface. While I get the title of the book in context with the story, I do wonder how that specific group of teenagers earned the name “The Liars.” They didn’t seem to have done anything particularly awful at the point they were named, except lazing around the island having mundane conversations.
Cadence has a flair for the dramatic:
“Then he [her father] pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest. I was standing on the lawn and I fell. The bullet hole opened wide and my heart rolled out of the rib cage and down into a flowerbed. Blood gushed rhythmically from my open wound,
then from my eyes,
She consistently describes her mental state metaphorically and it can be very jarring. We Were Liars is a very quick read, partially because there are long portions written in fragmented sentences, just like the above quote. I liked the fairy tales interspersed through the chapters. They served up most of the enlightenment, since Cadence was completely clueless.
Since Cadence has amnesia, a majority of the book is her trying to piece the summer of her 15th year together into a coherent story. It will drive you crazy that everyone knows what happened except Cadence and you. But when the answers finally start flowing: View Spoiler »OH. MY. GOSH. My reaction was “WHAT? HOW? Oooooooh……..” I still wonder if the cousins were ghosts or hallucinations and I think the case could be made for either. I think hallucinations. The plan to reunite the family really was the stupidest, most unnecessarily complicated plan ever, even for being young, slightly drunk, and in an heightened emotional state. I wonder if Cadence’s actions were on purpose, consciously or subconsciously. I am leaning towards yes. Lockhart leaves that for you to decide. « Hide Spoiler
Sometimes I have a hard time reading young adult novels, because I get the cringey feeling like I’m reading one of my old journals. This one was riveting. I recommend it.