A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.
This book. Everyone raves about it, everyone loves it, but it left me feeling grumpy. I knew there was a twist, since in the beginning, there’s a note asking you not to reveal it to anyone who asks. So I was expecting some kind of M. Night Shyamalan moment, and I ended up sort of seeing it coming, but not really. But despite my misgivings with the twist, I read this book in about twelve hours, and it was engrossing and interesting. It was a quick read, no ponderous plot moments, no bad pacing. Lockhart is a great writer, and this is a huge departure from her Ruby Oliver novels (which everyone loves, myself included). Cady’s narration has a dreamy quality, making the summers on Beechwood seem somehow ethereal but also very real. Nothing seems entirely solid, as if events and places and even people change depending on the angle. Cady relies on these dreamy memories, however, because she needs to reconstruct her sense of self after her “accident.”
Let me tell you why I put “accident” in quotes. The Sinclairs are perfect. They are old-money, reminiscent at times of the Kennedys, American royalty. They are white, blonde, and beautiful, and they are surrounded by mystery and admiration. They summer on a private island, where each of the three Sinclair sisters have their own house. They are also torn apart by worry, because each sister wants their father’s estate for her own. These women are highly educated, all divorced, and do not work. They rely on their father, Harris Sinclair, who is manipulative and cruel, playing his daughters against each other. Harris isn’t really alone in being unlikable though; none of the Sinclairs are likable or relatable, from the patriarch down to the smallest Sinclair child. They are privileged, they are spoiled, and they are in their own little materialistic bubble. It’s hard to get close to them, partly because we don’t get any real character depth. Stuck in Cady’s head as we are (and she is the very definition of an unreliable narrator), we only see what she sees, and she doesn’t really know her family. They only see each other during the summer, on this private island, and they lose touch during the year. When they are together, they follow the Sinclair family rules: never show painful emotion, do not discuss loss, smile, act normal, have a picnic. Granny Tipper dies early in the novel, and the Sinclairs simply do not mention her at all. As Cady’s mother says in chapter 11 of the digital ARC, “Silence is a protective coating over pain.” So I wrote “accident” as I did because Cady has amnesia and can’t remember what happened at all, and we can’t trust anything the Sinclairs say about pretty much anything.
The Liars (and we never really are told why the family calls them this) are Cady, and her cousins Johnny and Mirren, and Johnny’s friend, Gat. Gat is the nephew of one Sinclair sister’s Indian boyfriend, who Harris and his wife do not approve of. Cady opens the book as a nearly eighteen-year-old who still calls her mother “Mummy,” Johnny is flippant and materialistic, Mirren is flighty and irritable, and Gat is an outsider. He is a little anarchist in the making, which endeared him to me a lot, and he is absolutely not of the Sinclair lifestyle. He sometimes tries to get the Sinclair cousins to see their privilege, to question what they’ve always taken for granted, but they are either unwilling or incapable to do so. After her accident, Cady is absent from Beechwood for two years, and when she returns, things are the same, but not quite. The main house has been renovated, everyone is getting along, and Harris’ mental state is in decline. Things are confusing for both Cady and the reader, and we discover things slowly, as Cady does.
But don’t worry. I won’t reveal the ending.