We Were Liars
E. Lockhart is flat-out one of the smartest writers I know. Good thing, too, because in the hands of a lesser writer, WE WERE LIARS could have come out gimmicky or like an annoying trick. Instead, she employs the novel's now-infamous surprise ending brilliantly, piecing it seamlessly into everything that came before and making it work perfectly in the plot she so carefully constructed.
WE WERE LIARS takes place primarily on the Sinclair family's private island off the coast of Massachusetts, within a short boat ride of both Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. It's clear, though, that the Sinclair family has a level of wealth even beyond that of the denizens of these other exclusive resort communities. In addition to the island and its four homes, Grandpa Harris Sinclair also owns a brownstone in Boston and talks, at one point, about donating enough money to his alma mater, Harvard, to fund a new student center.
"[T]hat surprise ending? Yes, it's a doozy --- the kind of thing that will make readers want to flip back to the beginning and read the whole thing over again..."
To Cadence, however, Beechwood Island is just the place where she and her cousins grew up spending summers, an idyllic environment where they enjoyed the perfect blend of freedom and security. Cadence's mother and her two sisters have brought their children to the island through good times and bad; even after divorces rocked each of their relationships, Beechwood was always the same.
Cadence particularly enjoys the company of those she calls "The Liars": her cousins Johnny and Mirren, as well as Gat, the nephew of Johnny's mother's boyfriend. The Liars, including Cadence, are all about the same age; Johnny and Mirren are like the siblings Cadence never had, and Gat...well, Gat steals Cadence's heart immediately.
WE WERE LIARS focuses on two summers in particular: Cadence's 17th summer, when she returns to Beechwood Island after a summer away, and her 15th summer, when she and Gat fell in love --- and when something happened that has left Cadence battling chronic migraines, unable to remember what precipitated the traumatic head injury that resulted in this constant pain.
As Cadence ever-so-gradually begins to recall the events of her 15th summer, the reader also discovers that all is not as it seems on Beechwood Island. Definitions of family, of loyalty, and of acceptance are all deeply tested --- and Cadence must redefine for herself what she believes in and stands for.
As Lockhart reveals her story, she includes references to KING LEAR as well as to classic fairy tales, finding parallels in these old tales to the Sinclair family's own dramas. And that surprise ending? Yes, it's a doozy --- the kind of thing that will make readers want to flip back to the beginning and read the whole thing over again, as much to absorb the themes Lockhart is incorporating as to trace the narrative's skillful twists and turns.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 23, 2014