We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, paperback novel, 225 pages, published by Allen & Unwin in 2014.
Harris and Tipper Sinclair have three daughters, and their daughters produce a number of grandchildren. Cadence Sinclair Eastman is the eldest, but only by a few weeks. Next are her cousins Johnny and Mirren, one child for each Sinclair daughter, more grandchildren come, but these three are the first. The family is from old money, they are beautiful, they are strong, they seem to have it all. They even own a private island off the coast of Massachusetts, where the whole family spends their summers together. When Johnny’s mum finds a new partner, she brings along his nephew to spend summer on the island. Gat is the same age as Johnny, Cady and Mirren, and together they are the four liars, best friends growing up together, making mischief, having fun. In the summer before they turn sixteen something terrible happens, an accident, Cady can’t remember, and the family won’t tell her. What are they hiding, and why?
As I read the first page of We Were Liars, I prepared myself for a pretentious, overindulgent and vain story of frivolity and inconsequence. By the second chapter I was intrigued, and by the fourth, I was starting to race through the pages. I had to know what Cady had forgotten, and what was happening to the family.
The story is told from Cady’s perspective, and jumps between the summer of the accident, which her amnesia is blocking, and the summer two years on, when she has returned to the island and her memories are beginning to re-appear. The style of writing employed may not appeal to everyone, though I felt it fit the story quite well. There are elements of romance and family conflict, there are secrets and lies, all revolving around an intriguing mystery leading towards the truth. This book provided me with something that has become increasingly rare for me, an ending that I never saw coming, it slammed me, it made me cry, but it was so very very perfect.
I found all of the characters in We Were Liars to be well written with plenty of depth, surprisingly, I liked the four liars. These teenage characters of Cady, Johnny, Mirren and Gat had some aspects of spoilt rich kid, but they were still likeable. They were stifled and embarrassed by the behaviour of the adults, with ideals which were refreshing, but they still took it for granted that they would always have whatever they wanted. The way that Cady changes after the accident is interesting, she is a complicated girl, suffering debilitating migraines, and hovered over by her mother. Part of me wanted to dislike her for her assumption of continuous wealth and security, but I couldn’t, she was doing it tough in a lot of ways, and I felt for her.
The adults, though less central to the plot, were as expected of adults in a privileged family. During the summer of the accident, the aunties are arguing over money and property and the love of their father. Harris Sinclair is manipulative and uses his immense fortune to play his daughters off one another. Rich people are often portrayed in literature and film using their money as power and needing more and more no matter who they trample on to get it. Not knowing anyone with this sort of money at their disposable, I must assume that this is only a slight exaggeration of reality, and the behaviour of the Sinclairs is consistent with this image. I thought that the way the three women wheedled, connived and ingratiated themselves in order to gain favour with Harris was pitiful, yet completely plausible. I find this behaviour bewildering, but then I’ve never had lots of money to fight over before!
One of the best young adult novels that I have read in some time, We Were Liars, is a stunning read for high school students and up. Give it a go, it’ll surprise you, and it will stay with you for a very long time.