“I like a twist of meaning,” Cadence Sinclair Eastman says. At 17 years old, the upper-class, white daughter of a prominent family bears the semblance of old money: a big house, a private-school education, a tendency toward romanticizing wealth (and poverty). In reality, however, Cady suffers from selective amnesia and is plagued by migraines. Her memories of her last summer at the family island, Beechwood, are shrouded with trauma, and she only knows that something led her to a head injury.
Plot Overview: Friends, Memories and Tragedy
Cadence has spent every summer on Beechwood Island with her cousins, Johnny and Mirren, and Johnny’s pseudo-cousin, Gat, through his mother’s Indian boyfriend. When Cadence and Gat first meet, attraction sparks into love.
While summer on a private beach may seem idyllic for the teenagers, trouble is brewing in another generation. Cadence’s mom, Penny, and her two sisters, Carrie and Bess, have little to show for a life built on trust fund money, excellent educations and shopping. The desire to keep up appearances drives the three sisters to greed and gives their widowed father the power to game play. Frustrated, the women turn to their children to win affection from Granddad.
The teens refuse to appeal to Granddad’s (lack of) generosity, and though Cadence’s memory is hazy, she and Johnny, Mirren and Gat, “The Liars,” seek independence from family schemes. But then Cady wakes up in a hospital room, her mind wiped of summer memories. It’s only when she returns to Beechwood Island two years later that she figures out what that independence was, what the feud lead to, and what little meaning there is in money and manipulation.
Criticisms and Compliments
We Were Liars owes much of its popularity to good marketing: “We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from New York Times bestselling author, National Book Award finalist, and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart. Read it. And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.” And, to give credit where credit is due, the ending is good (if a rule-breaker), and the story itself is surprisingly fast-paced; it’s possible to read the entire novel in one afternoon.
Despite the quick pacing and twist ending, however, We Were Liars suffers from a couple of weaknesses. First, the story is one of romance and family dysfunction, but Lockhart also touches on race relations and socio-economic status; had she incorporated those aspects more, the novel could have had more depth (though, in all fairness, the narrator is a teenager, not an adult). Second, Cadence varies from linear storytelling to speaking in verse to creating fairytales based on her family’s problems. The differing styles could be reflective of her head injury and her muddled memory (the ambiguous timeline in her stories certainly does), but it reads a little funny.
In any case, We Were Liars is meant for young teen readers who would most likely be shocked by the ending and charmed by Cadence’s narration.
- E. Lockhart. We Were Liars. Delacorte Press, 2014 ISBN 9780385741262