Book Review: We Were Liars

Okay, whatever you do, do not read this book and then watch the book trailer. It will make you so very sad that since its crazy popularity in 2014 and its release to be adapted, there has not been a movie made. The book trailer is so good. It doesn’t help that I love that song (“I Found” by Amber Run).

Image from Amazon.com

So, I set out this year to read 102 books on a very tight, strict schedule. I thought I would try that approach, and reading has been a comfort to me during the pandemic. A week into the year, my 16-year-old daughter walked into my bedroom and handed me the book she had just read, We Were Liars. “I think you’ll like this.” Well, I’m not going to turn that down. So I stuck it on my bedside table with my current reads and a week later I discovered I was shockingly two days ahead of schedule (thanks to staying up all night reading The City of Brass). I was hoping I could finish We Were Liars by E. Lockhart in a couple days. Hah! That was easy peasy. It’s a page-turner.

The hype about this book is the “twist.” Readers are warned not to give it away to others. I didn’t know much about the book, so I just started reading, my daughter having obeyed the directive on the book cover and in the marketing material. “Don’t talk about it.” Now here’s the bummer: I knew exactly what was going on in this book from almost the beginning of the book. Here is the thing: I am a writer and a reader, and–even more importantly–I am a born storyteller. It is really difficult to pull one over on me in a book or a movie and I get really excited when a book or movie manages to. It is evident that this book would be best if you were taken in and kept guessing. Unfortunately for me, it didn’t work. Fortunately for you, it probably will, as a vast majority of people say they were thrillingly surprised at the conclusion. Great. Love it. Bummer for me. (Of course, a book like this never will do as well on a second reading, really, but that’s okay. It’s a great experience for most readers.)

Twist aside, I was taken in by this YA book right from the first page. Told in beautiful language that at times is actual poetry (and sometimes is even fairy tale), it didn’t really sound like YA (though it felt like YA due to subject matter and voice). The book is fast-paced, moving through four distinct sections that all tie seamlessly together. The characters are great and the story is super interesting. As in a lot of YA, the characters might have been presented as a little too sophisticated for their age, but I totally wanted to be their friend. In fact, all the characters are well fleshed out, and you can’t totally hate anyone (though you can come pretty close), as everyone has their foibles. The one thing that my daughter did tell me about was something she thought I would enjoy: occasionally the first-person narrator, Cady, is narrating all normal and then says something completely crazy ridiculous and you realize she has just used imagination and hyperbole to explode her emotional or even physical experience all over you. For example, Cady gets migraines, but instead of saying “I had a migraine. It hurt a lot,” the reader is suddenly watching a woman over Cady’s bed hacking into her forehead with an axe. It’s an excellent literary device and I did love it.

Considered a mystery, We Were Liars is presented from the point of view of Cadence Eastman, the eldest grandchild of the wealthy and powerful Sinclair family. Every summer the three daughters convene on their parents’ private island, where the father has built each of them a house. Over the years, the families have grown and changed and the eldest three grandchildren along with a regular guest have melded into a tightknit group who call themselves “the liars.” (I have read that the real explanation for this name was cut along with a fifth section. It does seem pretty unexplained.) After summer 15, however, Cady is alone, at home, with amnesia and crippling migraines and she can’t remember why or what happened to the rest of summer 15. What did happen and how can she get those memories back? Why are her cousins silent? Why was she swimming alone, half-dressed, and now have head trauma? There is romance, there is intrigue, there is thought-provoking conversation, social issues, friendship, family. It’s dreamlike and chilling and exciting.

Here and there, a detail misses. I find this the biggest problem in the believably of the ending. It’s not the entire ending that has an issue—the twist is pretty good, people love it—but a specific part of the ending. It’s just goofy stupid and I really wish it had been addressed in edits. I’m not the only one who feels this way, and just that one problem was big enough that it really put a fly in my ointment. Also, I think people try to read too far into this book. I disagree with people that Cady is an “unreliable narrator.” I think that she is a reliable narrator with amnesia who is discovering reality and herself, but I don’t think that makes her unreliable and I believe we know the truth by the end. There’s enough brokenness in the characters and the situations without having to dig any further and come up with “theories” about the story. It has layers, already. It has things to talk about. It’s a beautiful mess.

So yeah, I unabashedly liked it. One of the best YA books I’ve read and so modern and relevant, to boot.

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