“We are liars. We are beautiful and privileged. We are cracked and broken.”
2014’s We Were Liars by E. Lockhart is a modern young adult suspense book which focuses on the themes of family, morals, and self-acceptance. Narrated by Cadence, a brilliant but damaged girl, we are told all about her wealthy family who spend every summer gathered on their private island. With the summer of her fifteenth year approaching, Cadence can’t wait to spend time with her Liars – Johnny, Gat and Mirren. Their lives are seemingly perfect, especially as this is the year that Cadence and Gat begin to realise their true love for one another. But when something bad happens, Cadence suffers from memory loss and painful headaches and is told that she can’t go back to the island. Everybody seems to be keeping the accident a secret from her, and not even her Liars will tell her what happened. Cadence has to figure it out for herself. Two years later, they meet up once again to prompt Cadence to remember the incident.
A haunting tale about family, love, and grief, We Were Liars is a moving and poetic young adult thriller that is a simple read, but also simply beautiful to read. Full of alluring imagery, I flew through reading this and took it all in, which is exactly how it should be read.
Telling the audience from the beginning that something has happened to Cadence to cause her illness and that there is a period of time that she can’t remember, we know that there is going to be a big twist and that the book is leading up to something. We are constantly given hints to suggest that something much darker is going on. Cadence even suggests that “I suppose that I was raped or attacked or some godforsaken something. That’s the kind of thing that makes people have amnesia, isn’t it?” But just how dark is it going to get?
It is mysterious, not being too obvious in the clues that are woven in, but I wouldn’t say that it is a particularly gripping read. It is developed well and builds up to its climax with a great subtlety, but I wasn’t reading out of anticipation. Instead, I was caught up in the gentleness of the prose and the compelling way that Cadence tells her story.
The trouble is, we know that Cadence is an unreliable narrator. Firstly, the title of the book already suggests that she is a liar. And secondly, she can’t remember what has happened in her past and is on so much medication that we don’t even know if we can trust the story she is telling us now.
Classed as a young adult book, We Were Liars is definitely a story for a teenage audience. The characters are young and quite immature, all dealing with first-time relationships and coming-of-age issues, but there are some very adult themes, as well. With a combination of swearing, drug use, sexual themes, and a heavy emphasis on mental illness and depression, none of these themes are explored too heavily, but the book does take some dark turns that younger audiences may not know how to deal with.
I certainly wasn’t expecting the answers that we are given and found the ending very powerful, so it’s no surprise that this book was winning so many awards around the time of its release.
My only problem with the book relates to the quote I have used at the top of the page. “We are beautiful and privileged. We are cracked and broken.” At its core, the book is about a family that comes from money. They have lived privileged lives. They think of themselves as beautiful and almost untouchable. Most of the book’s audience won’t be able to relate to this, making the supporting characters difficult to relate to and even like for the most part.
However, Cadence is easy to engage with because she is a cracked and broken character, showing readers that underneath it all she is just as fragile as the rest of us. There’s a lot going on in her head that gives us the time to get to know her better. This insight into her mental wellbeing makes her character feel very real and allows us to make a more of a personal connection to her as we can relate to some of her struggles.
Some of the family dynamics are explored well, though, emphasising that no matter how well off your family is or isn’t, that the same conflicts can still arise between them. The fact that these younger characters want to bring their parents back together does help us to engage with them a little better in the end, as well, but it’s just their circumstances that make it difficult to emphasise with them in general, often coming across as a little pretentious.
What I did really like about the book, though, is the way that the writing style reflects Cadence’s thought process. She’s obviously on a lot of medication so you can see how her mind wanders as her narration becomes fragmented, taking it’s time with random breakpoints, talking in rhythm and at different paces. This may annoy some readers, but it does reflect on the ins and outs of Cadence’s state of mind really well. The use of fairy tale fables to describe certain situations is a great narrative technique, too.
This is easily a book that you can read in a few hours, but it is also one that you will be thinking about for a few more afterwards. It doesn’t really go anywhere and it doesn’t leave you with a meaningful message to take away with you, but after the big shock of a twist, it does leave a huge impact.