E. Lockhart’s novel “We Were Liars” does not lack in the tension versus shock effect, and she will surprise you in more ways than one.
The Liars are made up of three cousins, Cadence (or “Cady”), John and Mirren, and their friend Gat. The book never explains why the four call themselves the Liars, but I assume it is because they only pretend to like the way they live.
Every summer, the Liars are reunited on the Sinclair family’s privately owned Beechwood Island off the coast of Massachusetts, where the cousins’ rich grandfather, Harris Sinclair, has created a home away from home.
The island sounds like a dream with private beaches, a tennis court and servants, all a short boat ride away from Martha’s Vineyard; however, the Sinclairs—Harris, his daughters and their respective children are not a peaceful family, at least not after the death of Harris’ wife, Tipper. Her death leaves Harris’ three daughters arguing over what belongs to whom and who should take care of Harris.
The arguing, drinking and materialistic values of their elders is what drives the Liars to do the unthinkable, which readers do not learn until the end of the novel.
Cadence, the oldest grandchild, is the narrator of the story. She fills the reader in, and she is the one person on the island who cannot remember anything of “summer fifteen”—the summer of her accident, the last summer she was on the island before the present.
There are some confusing passages in the novel, and Lockhart’s use of a format along the lines of poetry did not help me, but Cadence explains her accident. From that point on, I could not stop turning the page.
This is what Cadence knows of “summer fifteen”: She was going on 15 years old. Her cousin John brought along his friend Gat, whom she fell in love with. Harris’ daughters argued constantly, and then the memories end. Cadence woke up in a hospital room with no memory of how she got there.
Her mother told her that she was found on the beach, nearly naked and soaked to the bone. No one knew what happened, and because Cadence could not remember, it did not seem to matter.
So, when Cadence returns to the island for “summer seventeen,” she spends the whole time talking with the Liars and trying to figure out what her mother and aunts are keeping from her.
Here’s the thing: the other Liars won’t tell her either, and it isn’t until the end of the book that all the clues Cadence is given throughout the story are thrown together into one jaw-dropping chapter.
In the end, Cadence not only learns the truth, she learns a lesson.
“Tragedy is ugly and tangled, stupid and confusing. That is what the children know. And they know that the stories about their family are both true and untrue. There are endless variations. And people will continue to tell them…My full name is Cadence Sinclair Eastman…I am the perpetrator of a foolish, deluded crime that became a tragedy.”
Do you want to know the truth, the tragedy? Read the book. I promise you won’t regret it.