5.13.2014

we were liars by e. lockhart, 225 pp, RL: TEEN


Recurring retellings of fairy tales, echoes of King Lear and Wuthering Heights, personal mottos and a blinding pain that keeps memories out of reach are the threads that e. lockhart weaves together to make the fabric of her stunning new novel, we were liars. I have to precede this review with a handful of warnings: this IS a book that you will be compelled to read in one sitting; this IS a book that lives up to the warning on the back jacket: "If anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE;" and this IS a book that will leave you feeling broken at the end, but in that good way that an amazing book makes you feel when you finish because the author has done the incredible and invited readers to live someone's life for a few hundred pages, allowed you to truly walk in someone else's shoes. 

Chapter 2 of we were liars begins,

My full name is Cadence Sinclair Eastman.
I live in Burlington, Vermont, with Mummy and three dogs. 
I am nearly eighteen.
I own a well-used library card and not much else, though it is true I live in a grand house full of expensive, useless objects.
I used to be blond, but now my hair is black.
I used to be strong, but now I am weak.
I used to be pretty, but now I look sick.
It is true I suffer migraines since my accident.
It is true I do not suffer fools.
I like a twist of meaning. You see? Suffer migraines. Do not suffer fools. The world means almost the same as it did in the previous sentence, but not quite. 
Suffer.
You could say it means endure, but that's not exactly right.


Cadence tells us the truth, a truth that it takes the whole novel to uncover and understand, for the reader and Cady. we were liars is a novel that is intricately constructed around her amnesia in a way that will make you want to go back to the beginning and read it again when you finish. 

While Cady tells us about herself in Chapter 2, Chapter 1 of we were liars is all about the “beautiful Sinclair family.” A few chapters into the novel and it is clear why Cady chooses to tell us about her family before she tells us about herself. The person Cady is and the point she has reached in her life when the story begins has everything to do with this family of “old money Democrats” who have wide smiles and square chins. They also have their own private island off the coast of Massachusetts where they summer every year. Patriarch Harris grew the fortune that he came into after graduating Harvard and put his wife Tipper in the kitchen and garden, unless she was on “display in pearls and on sailboats.” Harris holds the power and Tipper exhibits it by filling their homes with object upon object, leaving her daughters to fight over her black pearls and embroidered tablecloths when she dies. And Harris wields his power, playing his three daughters off each other, especially the summer after Tipper dies. lockhart deftly paints a picture of this blue blood family and their environs, then delves into the emotional price that is paid for being part of this world.

“Sunburnt and blessed,” sisters Carrie, Penny and Bess marry and give birth within weeks of each other. As firstborn, Cadence is the heir, and her mother never lets her forget that, despite the fact that her cousins Johnny and Mirren are born just weeks after her. In spite of the competitiveness of the sisters, the cousins are close and grow even closer during the summer they are all eight when Bess brings her art dealer boyfriend Ed and his nephew, Gat (short for Gatwick) Patil to the island, causing Harris's bigotry to boil just under the surface of his gentility. The arrival of Gat also marks the summer the quartet becomes known as the liars.

When Cadence begins her story, it is the summer seventeen (how the Liars refer to each summer, linking it with their ages) and she is returning to the island after her summer sixteen was spent traveling in Europe, most days finding her with her head pressed to the cool tile of bathroom floors, vomiting and trying to survive her crushing headaches. Cady's fifteenth summer is the summer she had her accident. She can only remember waking up on the beach, half in the water and half dressed. While the doctors can find no sign of brain damage, her memory loss and headaches are relentless and devastating, but they also protect her from the greater pain and devastation that will come when she regains her memory.

Cady has four weeks on Beechwood Island to recover her memories of the accident, of the happy and sad moments that made up life as a Sinclair and of Gat, the boy who was the only one who saw and tended to the emotional and psychic wounds inflicted by the elder Sinclars. The boy that she knew she was in love with. She is clear of one thing, the Sinclair family, despite all efforts to hide it, holds a failure, a criminal, and an addict in their ranks, along with three daughters who have divorced their husbands, spent through their trust funds and failed to find ways to make a living and support their families. Their children bear the marks of this, despite their best efforts to overcome, outrun or undo it.

I’m not going to lie about the ending of we were liars but I’m also not going to say anymore about the plot. It must be experienced as spoiler-free as possible. But I do feel compelled, once again, to say what an incredible, brilliant storyteller lockhart is. If you read her intricate, compelling YA novel, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks, then you know that she is gifted at writing a layered story that is rich with complex characters and rewarding endings and we were liars does not disappoint

About a year ago I began following lockart on Pinterest and was very excited to watch the pins that appeared on her board for we were liars, below. She also has a very cool tumblr for the book.


Follow E. Lockhart's board We Were Liars on Pinterest.


You can also visit her boards for her other books for younger readers written under the name Emily Jenkins. The Toys Go Out Trilogy is a great read out loud and wonderful for emergin readers. The Invisible Inkling series, which my son and I loved, is perfect for third and fourth graders. And, Jenkins has written an amazing array of picture books and partnered with brilliant illustrators. You can view all of them here.


Source: Review Copy

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