Before I start my review, I want to say that E. Lockheart’s We Were Liars was majorly trumpeted as one of The Reads of The Year when it came out last year, so if you’ve come this far without spoiling yourself – congrats! But also, stop reading now! I typically try to avoid major spoilers, and definitely warn people if I don’t, but it was too challenging for me to write this review without speculating on the twists that it’s all a lost cause down below. Hence,
READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!
OR YOU’LL BE SO SPOILED THAT YOU’LL FEEL LIKE OLD MILK.
[ hehe I think I’m funny 🙂 ]
Cadence is a Sinclair, an idolized, perfectionist Kennedy-like family that summers together on their own little island and experiences the struggles of the wealthy. Her closest friends are her cousins Johnny and Mirren and outsider Gat, the Indian-American nephew of her aunt’s boyfriend and Cadence’s first love. Only something happened two summers ago that caused Cadence to lose her memory and to lose touch with her friends. Now she’s determined to return to the idyllic island and regain what she has lost.
We Were Liars is incredibly difficult to describe, but it follows four friends, the titular Liars, whose friendship becomes destructive to everything they know and love. Told from Cadence’s point of view, we are as equally lost as she is at the beginning, having no knowledge of the events that led to her amnesia and subsequent ill-health. While it proved to be an ideal setup for mystery, it also resulted in the author’s use of oddly poetic prose that I presume was supposed to be a side-effect of Cadence’s theatrical, delusional mind. Emotions are personified, choppy rhymes are harshly punctuated – being in Cadence’s head often felt like a badly written melodrama.
Overall, I’m just not nearly as invested in Cadence the narrator as in the rest of the characters. Admittedly, I felt bad as she struggled to regain her memory but she seemed like such a dull person even pre-accident. Gat I liked mostly because he was half-Indian, but I hated that he was toying with two girls’ emotions and he came across as a pretentious blowhard. Mirren and Johnny were my favorites, so sweet and hopeful and under-appreciated. I loved the fragments of the group’s bond that were glimpsed through flashbacks, but I wish it was developed more.
One thing I don’t understand though is why the group is nicknamed “The Liars.” When Cadence mentions they’re called that, it’s before they’ve done any discernible lying. And she said that the family gave them that moniker. I get it in retrospect, since the whole plot was based on lies, but how can they have known that when they were younger? Mind-boggling. Also perplexing is how the Liars didn’t communicate outside the summer in an age of Facebook and cell phones. I feel like the island was a time warp.
Despite these plot potholes, the story unraveled beautifully, to the extent that I went back immediately and reread several sections to gain some clarity on plot points I didn’t pick up on, reveling in the shocking reveal. I admit that I did not guess the twist. I was thinking of some dark shit (abuse, incest, etc) but it turned out to be even darker than I would’ve thought as Cadence accidentally burnt her friends (and dogs!) alive in her grandfather’s house. I read some reviews that take it even a step more twisted, speculating that Cadence meant to kill the others so she could inherit, but I’m going to assume that wasn’t the author’s intent.
In spite of that, the atmosphere is figuratively and literally haunting from the beginning. Reviewers seem divided on the ghost versus hallucination debate (i.e. whether the Liars were spirits or figments of Cadence’s imagination/drug use), but I come down firmly on the side of ghosts. Why else would no one else see them and why would they stick around the same house? Also, one of the little siblings mentions hauntings and another has a new obsession with the paranormal, which makes me believe they can at least sense the presence if not see them. It makes the cover cooler with a fuzzy ghost-like picture of the deceased Liars, but also the whole story more tragic as the Liars hung around out of love to give Cadence closure.
I do highly recommend this book to lovers of mystery and family drama. Despite the elements of teen angst, I think this is a YA that even real adults could get into. Plus it’s a great, gripping beach read, one that I may even read again myself.