Book Title: We Were Liars (Standalone)
Author: E. Lockhart
Number of pages: 227
A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.
(re: Goodreads @ We Were Liars by E. Lockhart)
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr spoiler-less review:
– If you are dying to read this book, forgo every review and just read.
– Putting on that detective hat may ruin the reading experience. The “big twist” isn’t earth shattering if readers can uncover the clues.
– The narrative follows an unreliable narrator and often reads with a staggered-yet-lyrical bounce. The descriptive prose is vivid but often overbearing and too dramatic—teenagers don’t think/speak the way this novel imagines them.
– The plot centers on a mystery and how the protagonist cannot recall a pivotal moment that changed her family. Everything else is filler content; basically tom-foolery, eating lots of food, and romantic dilemmas.
– Themes (money and power, corruption, racism and discrimination, misogyny, etc.) are lacklustre in development and add limited commentary to inspire change.
To eat that scone or not.
A fair-skinned girl; a boy quite the opposite.
Three musketeers, three French hens, a BLT sandwich. Three.
A skeptical hat. An ill-conceived plan. A lot of hype.
No one likes the truth.
Truth can save you.
Truth is boring.
Read it (or don’t).
And if anyone asks you how it ends, please consider the TRUTH.
In another world, this may have at least made it past the first round of proofing. (Maybe not, maybe not, maybe not.)
Disclaimer: Potential spoilers inherent to this review from here onward.
When shit hits the fan, it’s supposed to splatter everywhere and I’m supposed to think, “what the fuhhhhhhh?” Yeah, well, too bad. I put on my skeptical hat and didn’t even plug in the fan. I am simply not impressed with this read and hype isn’t even a factor. The twist was not omfg-wtf-is-happening worthy to redeem the rest of the book so all I’m left with is plotless writing, an unreliable narrator, awkward-poetry-esqe passages, and too much [dare I say] upper-class, white people problems.
Also, why is We Were Liars listed under the thriller genre? I am baffled. It is far from being tense and suspenseful; nor did it surprise me. Mysterious, realistic, young-adult fiction—sure, I can buy that. Thriller? Nope.
The Sinclairs are a wealthy family who spend each summer together at a private getaway. In this paradise are three mothers, each with their own home and family. They are seclusion, unity, vanity, and corruption. They are the Sinclairs, they are family. And their kids? They are known as the Liars. One tragic event will open a rift in the family—smiling outside; drama within. Everyone is on edge. But for Cadence, she can’t seem to remember what happened the night everything changed, and no one wants her to know.
The protagonist is cleverly unreliable. It is to the extent that you should always question the motive behind how the story develops and the intent behind its messages. Not to mention that the entire plot focuses on Cadence trying to remember the events that led to her accident. So doesn’t it make sense to put on your detective hat and try to ponder and understand what happened to her too? Sounds pretty fair to me. But let’s backtrack to an earlier comment: the awkward-poetry-esqe passages and how it droned on repetition and a choppy thought process. The sum of these things, including her continual distraught and migraines to recollect the past, makes for a narrator you should be incredibly skeptical to believe as she navigates through the story. Even if you have a hunch—you should be prodding the thought with what-if analyses. What-if x? What-if y? What-if z? What-if xyz? I love a book that makes you think passionately about the why. I have a great appreciation if the book breaks those confines and really surprises me. This is where I found difficulties in actually enjoying the read because truthfully, I was imagining possibilities and thought, “I wonder if this happens because of reason xyz, or this, or this…” And shit—it did.
But you know what the caveat is? Sometimes a good read is still a good read even if the plot is easily predictable. I just didn’t get that feeling with We Were Liars because I needed that twist to punch me in the face—to validate all the nonsense that was pretentious tom-foolery—but it didn’t, and so I continue to lament.
Returning to the prose: have you ever had a terrible headache or just been in serious pain where you simply can’t think straight? And between all the blips of expletives, you actually had a coherent thought process somewhere in your brain but it’s all broken up in your mind? I feel like that was the intent
she erratically wrote sections with a staggered,
Was it annoying?
Did it work?
This narrative formatting transfers over to how metaphorically descriptive Lockhart chose to address the emotions felt by the characters. It was a bit overly dramatic at times because no one in their right mind would emote and phrase words and talk the way they did but it did paint a vivid image, I guess, if you’re into this sort of thing:
Then he pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest. I was standing on the lawn and I fell. The bullet hole opened wide and my heart rolled out of my rib cage and down into a flower bed. Blood gushed rhythmically from my open wound,
then from my eyes,
What is that you ask? Why, it’s Cadence talking through her emotions! No further comment on how misled I was for the longest time.
Setting? I’ll just say this book is food porn for any foodie alike. It’s seriously stupid how much they talk about eating. Moreover, once you factor in how I really feel about this book…it just made me hangry (that is hungry + angry).
“Cadence Sinclair: pity party for one” is basically Cady in a nutshell and others called her out on her shit (thankfully). But perhaps you cannot engage her behaviour without the other Liars. Here we have another book where I enjoyed reading the supporting characters a hell of lot more than the protagonist but alas they are underdeveloped. I liked Gat. Mirren was okay. Johnny was superb. But Cadence was annoying, naive, pretentious, ignorant, oh dear the list could go on really. And look, she’s the unreliable narrator we have to suffer through. I loathed following her yammering. But I must persist—I must endure. Because if you’re trying to up-vote this posh white-people higher living then perhaps it might be an accurate portrayal. I should also mention that Cady doesn’t ever fault a lovey-dovey romance if the guy being crushed on cheats on his girlfriend with you because as teenagers, who cares? Cady, Cady, Cady…I will just let this sink in and not go any further with this. (Literally: -________________________-….)
However, the character I must discuss is Gatwick Patil. He’s Indian-American and only a nephew (I think?) to one the aunts. Leave it to the only character of coloured-skin with dialogue to make grandiose commentary regarding the lifestyle of this pompous family and to challenge Cadence and what she has grown up with. He is, I suppose, the only character that I really sympathized for. A nobody, an outsider, a Liar—Gat is a different kind of teenager—he bears a burden few on the island would understand and hides his true self from his friends every summer. He is a lesser individual who speaks up to inspire change only to be shut down again-and-again. Oh Gat, why did you have to be friends with Cady?
One of the main (if not the biggest) problems I had with this book is how I’m led to believe that these kids were raised from wealth; elitist and beautiful inside-and-out yet they all have no lick of logic when they act on what they set to achieve. What the hell is this shit? Everything is so ill-conceived and goes over and beyond youth and inexperience. The drive to carry out certain escapades comes with ambition, emotion, and logic. They had the first two down pat, sure, but logic? Nope, nope, nope. Like, for the sake of spoilers, I am not going to delve into this but once you come across the “wtf” moment, I hope you will realize how unjustified the idiocy really is.
The power in this cast is really in how family dynamics is portrayed under the veil of duress from holding money above everyone’s head. What’s more is that Lockhart used a lot of whimsical narratives involving a king and three daughters. This occurred throughout the narrative to comparatively juxtapose the plot against how the father felt about his daughters and how the sisters between themselves. It was neat, and perhaps, very much in Sinclair fashion.
(I need to take a breather before this one.)
Should you remedy the symptom or the problem? What if both are too far gone from being fixed? We Were Liars opens the commentary that money is power and power corrupts. But when throwing family into the dilemma—is the persisting issue a family matter or is it still invariably a money problem?
In today’s civil society, there’s a persistence of gender inequality relating to how valuation deserves equal treatment. Women should, by the same merits of men, be equally free to live as their own person and be treated as such. What I don’t exactly understand is how this book perpetuates the stigma that women are incapable of taking hold of their own lives. That it’s okay to be bound by higher living and expectations that trust funds and a lineage of wealth will carry them through life. That with a rich family, the only tough decisions they’ll make in life is what to eat for dinner (which I doubt they’ll even cook) or what furnishings to purchase. I guess being a housewife (or princess?) in life has its perks. So go on Disney princesses, find that prince charming and he’ll take care of you forever. Dude…really?
This panders on being borderline misogynistic as this central male figure (the granddad) assumes control of everything despite spiraling down the madness associated with grieving. Defy him and he can write you off. Speak to him with words he wants to hear or he will not listen. Relinquish control of one’s livelihood or endure the perils of continual threats of losing power and wealth. These are but examples of how much dominance one man holds and how much genuine respect and value he has for his daughters. Or perhaps I have it all wrong; and what I see as misogynistic is actually something else and someone should inform me otherwise. I may not understand this rich lifestyle they lead, but I’m not believing in anything positive from what I’m reading into.
I mean, consider if the variables changed. It is not a father but a husband; not a daughter, but a wife. Is it still acceptable to denigrate the worth of these individuals on the basis that they seemingly need to sell each other short, burning all ties amongst one another, for the sake of one man’s attention and monetary value? C’mon now, at least make an attempt at resolving these kinds of social commentary.
This whole dirty money situation that breaks families apart ties well into the skin colour debate as there was limited consequence to protect your own kin (white-skinned, for clarity) if you have the resources to be put in the right place. How easy and ethical it must have been to write something off and make people look the other way when you have the cash to flaunt around. But God forbid a darker skinned individual takes the same actions do we ascertain the fault in their kind without question. Racism and social discrimination is a problem, and young love isn’t grounded in making positive waves of change when the possibility is so real in becoming ostracized by the fundamentals of family values and the community in which you grew up in. I’m not saying that characters shouldn’t be the change they wish to see but there is so much more than magically believing in the good intentions of others through love conquering all as a realistic rationale when there are so many nuanced variables in the equation of life.
Not to mention the whole socio-cultural divide between white-versus-coloured skins. You know how dumb it sounds to say, “don’t take this the wrong way, but…”? The point is: prompting what you say with that statement doesn’t make the insult any worse. Sure some characters didn’t prompt it, but their egregious actions spoke of it in spades. They aren’t overtly racist but will gladly adhere to some standard or lesser evil to save face. Like, really? (Pro-tip: it does not make you any less racist.) See, I voted for Obama, so I can’t be that discriminatory—he says as he stares through you—but I’m not going to ever regard you or your family by your names. It isn’t worded like this in the book but it sure feels that way. This is then left open and never challenged. Sigh, sigh, sigh.
And then there’s the issue of how this book handles mental awareness. The main takeaway I got is to treat individuals suffering from mental anguish with normality; not feeling bad for them (sounds great, actually), but also remembering that they’re secretly hurting and insane with deeper meaning in what they say or do (wait, what?). Unlike the previous two thematic concerns, the intent behind the ambiguity allows the narrative to end on a strong note; one that I was okay with (I guess).
Overall, these kinds of realistic case studies are impressionable and perhaps meaningful life lessons. So give me validation and reasoning. Make me believe that even the top one-percent of citizens can inspire change—is that too much to ask for?
Perhaps I should take off my skeptical hat and just read blind. Maybe then I would have been hit with a bigger wtf moment. But no, I can’t do that. It would be unfair to tamper with transparency and it would be even more unjust to feign ignorance to the content which felt off-putting. So yes—I feel like I’m doing a disservice to everyone who seemed to love this book. Someone needs to explain to me what was so magical about this reading experience. Usually my dislike comes with being perplexed with a read. But that isn’t the case with We Were Liars. I did not care for the “twist of meaning” ambiguity because at the end of everything, I just lost a sense of care for where I was going over-and-beyond the limited joy I felt from this read. I was not marred by hype. I was not informed of any details. I went in blank, and I came out blank. I feel kind of jilted, actually. So perhaps this book may stick around with me—but just not for the same reasons as everyone else.
And this is the truth.
// Review ends here
I really wanted to like this. True story: I blindly voted for Lockhart’s We Were Liars to win best YA Fiction on Goodreads. Man…lesson learned. I feel like I need to one day reread this book because I have this thought that I’m not “getting” what a lot of people seem to fawn and gush over. I do not know. I may never know.