Author: E. Lockhart
I was thoroughly aware of the upswell surrounding this title upon its release, but only just picked it up for myself. Partially because I rarely go for contemporary fiction, and partially because I am a purposeful bandwagon avoider. It’s very quasi-hipster of me; refusing to join in something simply because the world is singing its praises. Upon coming off from my high horse, though, I quite enjoyed E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars.
Part mystery, part suspense, and all about family ties, We Were Liars follows the summer escapades of the Sinclair family, which prides itself on keeping up an elitist appearance despite the dysfunction threatening to tear them apart. Cadence Sinclair is one of four cousins/friends that have grown up spending their summers together on Beechwood Island; their memories of each summer sustaining their separate lives until the next year.
We get a recap of their summers up through Summer 15, during which Cadence suffered a mysterious head injury. She can’t remember how she got hurt or any part of the remainder of that summer. Her family refuses to discuss it in the interest of maintaining a facade of normalcy. She is absent for Summer 16, traveling with her divorced father, but returns to Beechwood Island for Summer 17 to be reunited with the other three Liars. Cadence vows to learn the truth no one is talking about and uncover what happened to her.
If you have any intention of reading We Were Liars and don’t want the major plot twist spoiled (because it will ruin the book for you), STOP HERE.
Moving on. My thoughts.
Something about the way Lockhart phrased the revelation that the other three Liars had died in a fire during Summer 15 made me question whether or not it was true at first.
“Here is the truth about the Beautiful Sinclair Family. Or at least, the truth as Grandad knows it.”
Truth: Gat, Mirren, and Johnny did die. But Grandad’s version of the truth omitted Cadence’s involvement, the fact that she and the Liars actually set the house fire themselves. I applaud myself for finally catching the difference.
Once I got over wondering whether or not they were actually dead, I immediately wanted to re-flip through the whole book to see if the dead Liars interacted with anyone other than Cadence, or if Lockhart and her editors maintained a masterful consistency. Unfortunately, I read this on my phone, so that wasn’t really a viable option. I’ve decided to believe that they did.
My main curiosity with the book is what form the dead Liars were taking. Are they mental constructs of Cadence, schizophrenic delusions along the lines of those in A Beautiful Mind? Or are they more like ghosts, entities truly coming back from beyond death?
I wonder mainly because Cadence describes doing things with the Liars that have tangible results in the world. They trash Cuddledown, the house where they spend almost all of their time alone. If the Liars are merely in her head, Cadence is either generating the mess herself (a la Fight Club) or imagining that it’s there. But if we suspend reality and believe that physical embodiments of the Liars are actually appearing for Cadence, then it would be entirely possible for them to leave Scrabble tiles and dirty dishes everywhere. The latter seems more likely, since family ties are the focus of this book rather than a mental illness like schizophrenia.
I also had some issues keeping track of where certain events fit into the time stream, particularly as Cadence begins to remember events from Summer 15 during Summer 17. Having a physical copy of the book would’ve helped with that, as it would be easier to flip back and re-read.
But despite the few questions I had, I still enjoyed We Were Liars. The characters were all incredibly well-rounded, with a believable mix of virtues and vices in each of them. There is no shining hero, nor irredeemable villain. Ultimately, the Sinclairs are all just people. They can be greedy and manipulative as they vie for patriarch Harris’s favor, but come together in solidarity should an outside entity threaten the family. Cadence’s family may be full of fractured relationships, but it’s still her family, and in the end, they’re all she has to fall back on.