We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Fiction – audiobook. Read by Ariadne Meyers. Listening Library, 2014. 6 hours, 27 minutes. Library copy.

Seventeen-year-old Cadence is a Sinclair. This singular fact is the probably the most important aspect of Cadence’s life as it explains her privileged upbringing on a private island near Martha’s Vineyard, her mother’s constant admonishment for Cadence to “get it together”, and why Cadence, her teenaged cousins, and a family friend named Gat call themselves “the liars”.

Now, during “summer seventeen”, Cadence has returned to the island with no memory of “summer fifteen” when she went swimming alone resulting in an unspecified brain injury. No one knows why Cadence was swimming alone; no one will tell Cadence what happened during “summer fifteen”.

Her mother claims the doctors told her to stop telling Cadence about what happened because Cadence forgets it anyways and needs to remember on her own. And, besides, Cadence’s mother and aunts – Penny, Carrie, and Bess – are seemingly too busying fighting over who will inherit the fortune and all the things purchased with it that Cadence’s grandfather amassed to bother with Cadence, Gat, or her cousins, Johnny and Mirren.

The four teenagers, therefore, spend much of summer seventeen talking, drinking, and gossiping as much as Cadence’s memory loss and blinding migraines will allow. What the “liars” won’t do is tell Cadence what happened two years ago forcing her to work through her fractured and missing memories until she remembers.

At the very beginning of the novel, Cadence recounts the moment when her father left her mother and shot her in the driveway. It takes a moment to realize she means figuratively and not literally – a moment where my breath caught in shock – but this the great example of both Lockhart’s writing style and the unreliability of the narrator. People don’t cry; they melt into puddles.

I love this descriptive style of writing, and it was particularly enjoyable to experience in audiobook format as I imagined people doing the unimaginable before mentally rewinding and reimagining the scene in the “correct” way. The style and narrator were very reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle while the conflict between the sisters was, clearly, influenced by William Shakespeare’s King Lear.

And now this is where spoilers for this novel begin because I’ve read numerous reviews praising the ending of this novel and, I have to say, I wasn’t at all surprised by the conclusion. Nearly everyone in my book club was shocked to hear me say this asking when exactly I figured it all out.

Yet it wasn’t so much that I figured out exactly what Cadence, Gat, Johnny, and Mirren planned. More that I picked up almost immediately that Cadence is the only living member of “the liars” because she is the only one who talks to Gat, Johnny, or Mirren. And, while on the phone with a younger cousin, Cadence asks to speak to Mirren to which her cousin replies in a manner that suggests Mirren is one of the dead things people are always talking about. Yes, there is one moment where one of the aunts asks where Johnny is, but I figured it was because she was expecting to see him because she always saw he on the island in the summer and asked before she could remember.

This scene did bring up a really interesting conversation during my book club meeting about whether or not “the liars” are ghosts or hallucinations. (I fell into the hallucinations camp.) And then we ended up on another long conversation about the believability of fifteen-year-olds thinking it would be a good idea to start a fire on multiple floors, including the basement, which I think soured many people on the book. Personally, I liked the writing style but I found the ending unsurprising and uncovered questionable aspects of the plot that made me glad the novel was as short as it is.

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4 thoughts on “We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

  1. I didn’t read the second half of your review because of spoilers (thanks for the warning!), but the first half sounds intriguing. Also the fact that you mention the end (though I didn’t read what you had to say about it). The only other book by E. Lockhart I’ve read is The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. I actually read it twice and had the same reaction both times. I really liked Lockhart’s snappy, smart writing style and her strong female lead, but there was one facet of the ending that — I won’t say ruined, but — definitely affected how much I enjoyed the book. So I’m extra curious about this one! Was the audiobook narrator good?

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    1. Of course! I know many people are anti-spoiler, and this is one of those books that I think works best if you don’t know what’s coming. I haven’t read The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, but several people in my book club mentioned how much they loved it during our discussion that I’ve added it my list of books to investigate.

      I thought the audiobook narrator was perfect for this particular character and story. She’s not an narrator I would read other books simply because she narrates them, if that makes sense.

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  2. Also didn’t read the second part. I’ve read very conflicting reviews of this one, but I must read it eventually because I just can’t resits a goo mystery!

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