Because we are all liars.
Meet the Sinclairs. Harris, the great patriarch, and his wife Tipper are parents to three lovely women: Carrie, Bess, and Penny. Carrie is mother to Johnny and Will; Bess is mother to Mirren, Liberty, Bonnie, and Taft; and Penny is mother to the eldest of the grandchildren, Cadence. Every summer they live together on their private island. The perfect, all-American family.
Except that all three daughters are now divorced. Carrie now lives with an Indian man, whose nephew, Gat, stays with the Sinclairs every summer. Tipper dies, leaving Harris unchecked.
Worst of all is Cadence, who is a wreck after her parent’s divorce, which occurs during summer fifteen. But something else happened during summer fifteen. It hangs over the family, but no one wants to mention it.
Because some of them are liars.
The premise of We Were Liars is solid: a girl undergoes a traumatic experience and wants to discover he truth due to selective amnesia. The problem? The suspense doesn’t really cut it. Cadence has a theory for her mental health, and since I took it at face value, I didn’t really ache to learn what happened.
It only got really interested during the second half of the novel, since the first half sort of drags on. It really seems like (for lack of a better term) “first world problems,” as Cadence complains about going to Europe and always having too much stuff.
It also felt like instalove, despite Gat and Cadence knowing each other for a rather long time. I just never really believed they were in love, possibly because Cadence often doubts it herself. But I can get behind that reluctancy.
I really like the ending, as Cadence’s trauma really made sense. I could identify with her familial problems. And I was shocked to find out where it led. I only have two problems with it. One is that I’m not sure if Cadence’s actions really changed the family, and it seems oddly static in that sense. The other is that I don’t really understand what happened with the liars in summer seventeen. (Theories in comments are much appreciated!)
Who from the Sinclair family should you know?
First are the liars. The three eldest grandchildren—Johnny, Mirren, Cadence—plus Gat. They are close and spend the summer together, always. Each had a very distinct personality, which I liked. Especially since the three Sinclair teens have problems that show that they are still influenced by their old money culture, despite hating it so much. Johnny wants to explore the world and have fun. Mirren wants meaning her life, though she isn’t actively seeking it out.
Gat is what I can only call the “manic pixie dream boy”, always talking about world issues, and msking pretentious tea. He’s the outsider on the island since he:
- Doesn’t come from old money
- Doesn’t actually have money
- Is Indian
Cadence loves books and Gat. Yeah, that seems to be most of her character. That, and she doesn’t want to be afraid of anything. This concern with being fearful is surprisingly key to her character, despite being in quite the privileged position. Because she is scared, and she often falls into that fear, which makes her a really interesting character perspective.
The rest of the family is split in half: the old people and the littles. The littles are fairly static since Cadence (the narrator) only ever sees them as the younger ones who are innocent. The old people are all dicks because they are warped by money.
Which is a big problem: despite identifying with the familial problems of the Sinclairs, I can’t identify with any of them. Not even Gat, who is supposed to be a realist, because his eccentricity is unbelievable by comparison.
The writing is a 50/50 shot for me. For the most part, it’s not terrible. It is choppy, and it is very slow and seems to go nowhere for the first half.
There is one huge con. It’s just that
a sentence is broken up
And I know it’s for emphasis,
but it really is annoying.
To counteract this, there are chapters that break narrative where Cadence interprets her life around her through pseudo-fairytales. It’s my favourite part of the story, especially how its reflective of how Cadence sees the familial problems. The fairy tales are also really good at exploring the themes in the novel.
This book deals with a lot. PTSD, materialism, old money, familial problems, selfishness, and even racism to a degree. It’s surprising how Lockhart manages to squeeze it all in with only 225 pages.
I particularly like the issues with materialism and patriarchy. They permeate through the book, though the former did make me roll my eyes at times.
But at the same time, that’s kind of the point. You get fed up with the old money and the privilege and the materialism and “first world problems” and that sympathizes you to the characters.
Where does the lying come into the picture? The lying is woven into each scene. In the contradictions, the ironies, the subtleties. It comes through the idea of variations in fairytales, how money warps the family, how love warps judgement. It was really great to read.
We Were Liars might not be for everyone. This book definitely comes with trigger warnings, and the slow first half coupled with the lack of suspense may drive people away from finishing.
I definitely feel like rereading it, just to get a better handle of what just happened. But at the same time, I don’t feel that pull that screams, “OMG reading it again!!!” It’s a nice story, but not necessarily one that I want to reread over and over again.
Recommendation: Read. I definitely recommend reading this book once. Even if the materialism irritates you. It’s not for those looking for suspense, but definitely for those who like books about dysfunctional families. Power through the first half, and I promise the reveal is worth it.