This is probably one of the most unique and intriguing books I’ve read in a while. It’s part mystery, part romance, and at times almost seems like poetry. But my favorite part of all was the characters. They weren’t glamorous or flawless or bound to change in extraordinary ways. They were real, believable, and witty in a realistic, teenage way.
As a surface-level explanation of the story’s premise, Harris Sinclair is rich. He has three daughters and each has her own children. He prides his family for being Sinclairs. The family (the father, his daughters, and his grandchildren) spends every summer on Harris’ private island. Cadence, the narrator and the daughter of the eldest daughter, spends most of her time on the island with her cousins Mirren and Johnny and their friend, Gat. The four of them call themselves “the Liars.” But one summer Cadence is found on the shore of the island with a head injury and no memory of what happened before. Every time her mother tells her what happened she forgets and the doctors say she’ll have to remember on her own. What ensues is a struggle for Cadence to understand herself and that summer on the island. On her return to the island two years later, she gradually stitches together fragments of memories into a traumatic event she wanted to forget but which she has to acknowledge to move on.
I was fascinated by the intricacy of the story, the flashes of memories Cadence has that gradually build up into a story from two summers ago. The story unfolds for readers at the same pace as it does for Cadence–I don’t think I could guess what had happened until Cadence realized it herself–something I found very compelling.
Though the story does center around a mystery, the mystery doesn’t always seem like the main focus. To me, it was more like an underlying question beneath themes of corruption, greed, friendship, forgiveness, and acceptance.
While these themes are recurring and common, I would argue that they way they are conveyed is not. The story is not like a fairy tale, and Cadence sees this too.
As smaller chapters inserted between chapters of narration, Cadence writes variations of those age-worn fairy tales that always seem to end the same way. I thought of these as her way of explaining her situation and family and trying to make sense of them. However, as she finds, and as readers find too, life might not be compatible with a fairy tale.
I think something that makes the novel rather unlike others is that the characters are not made to fit in one box. For instance, Harris, the grandfather, can be pushy and discriminatory, but he can also be thoughtful and loving. He’s not that evil witch whose actions seem purely malevolent or that fairy godmother who always smiles. He doesn’t fit a role, as a regular human probably wouldn’t either. Similarly, Gat, Mirren, Johnny, and Cadence have the conversations and awkward moments that you would expect from teenagers. They’re not necessarily flawless or consistent.
Lastly, there is some language and dark content, and I would strongly suggest this for older teens (in fact, if I had known what would happen in the book I might not have picked it up. But this is coming from a reader who still enjoys re-reading some of her childhood fantasy books. I only did pick it up because it was chosen for a book club, and then it intrigued me more than I had expected).
– Mia T.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.