It’s an eye-catching title, isn’t it? We Were Liars. Hats off to Lockhart and her marketing team for that one! It’s all the more enticing for the blurb on the back, which reads: “We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense that will leave you reeling. Read it. And if anyone asks you how it ends, just lie.”
We Were Liars was first published in 2014. It debuted at #6 on the New York Times Best Seller List in the Young Adult category (and spent 13 weeks in the top ten), and it went on to win the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Young Adult Fiction. Most impressively, in my mind, it achieved massive cross-over appeal. In fact, I struggle to think of this as a Young Adult novel at all, because even though it ticks all the right boxes and it was marketed that way, most of the people I know who have read and loved it are adult-adults. Grown ups. “Old”. It’s a great example of the way in which Young Adult fiction has infiltrated the book-buying world to become a category in its own right.
Anyway, We Were Liars is the story of the wealthy, seemingly-perfect Sinclair family. And I mean “wealthy”, as in 1%-every-summer-they-gather-for-a-holiday-on-their-private-island-like-that’s-normal wealthy. Stories about rich kids aren’t new, and they have wide appeal – think Gossip Girl, and The OC, and Beverley Hills 90210. What makes We Were Liars differently is that it treats issues of class and race a lot more critically than the rich teenager stories of yore, which makes for a refreshing change.
The Sinclairs appear wealthy, and they certainly have the trappings of wealth, but the irony is that none of them are actually able to support themselves without family money. The wealth, and the power it supposedly affords them, is an illusion. It’s the kids, the teenagers, the protagonists, who see through it all. It’s very zeitgeist-y, a world where kids are leading the revolution.
So, the supposedly-wealthy white-bread Sinclairs gather on this island near Martha’s Vineyard every year, until one summer when Cadence, the narrator, is found seriously injured in the water. She suffers severe migraines and some kind of trauma-induced amnesia; she is completely unable to remember the circumstances leading up to her injury. Her mother refuses to tell her what happened, and packs her off to Europe the next summer… but then, two years later, Cadence returns to the island and begins to piece her memories back together.
The whole “Liars” thing was a bit clumsy, if you ask me. Like I said, it makes for a good title, and you’d think that’d be enough, but Lockhart has parlayed it into this Famous Five-esque relationship between the Sinclair cousins. Their family, unironically, calls them collectively “the Liars”, but it’s not 100% clear why until it (kind of) plays into the big shock reveal at the end… and, just, eugh. I wasn’t a fan. It’s a reach.
Still, the relationships themselves are interesting and well-crafted. Lockhart has said she was inspired by her own fantasies of having a close group of friends growing up, and her curiosity about the potential consequences of those bonds. In fact, We Were Liars‘s appeal to adult readers is probably rooted in nostalgia for the days of childhood friendship, and a new perspective on how those children and teenagers interact with adults we know to be imperfect.
Amy Bender, from the Los Angeles Times, said that We Were Liars is “a classic story of decaying aristocracy and the way that privilege can often hamstring more than help”, and I don’t think I can say it better myself. The metaphor of Cadence’s amnesia is masterfully done (it mirrors the WASP-y family tradition of denial), and I haven’t seen that kind of complexity in many other Young Adult novels to date.
All told, I’d say We Were Liars a good one to start with if you’re an adult-adult who’s curious as to why so many readers your age are turning to Young Adult fiction (and I’ve talked more about that trend here). It’s definitely right up your alley if you liked The Girl On The Train, and don’t mind your female protagonists young, waify, and unreliable.
My favourite Amazon reviews of We Were Liars:
- “Meh, more teen drama than I thought it would be.” – T. Lenahan
- “GREAT BOOK FAST DELIVERY” – Rachael
- “Suspenseful. I identified with the central character….don’t know why. Perhaps it was the pain of growing up. Teen years are so hard.” – AvidReader
- “Was very disappointed with this book. Enjoyed it until the end.” – Jen L
- “The ending really makes no sense unless the characters are extremely stupid and have no common sense. Very disappointing, would not recommend.” – Juan Blanco
- “I’m emotionally dead inside but that’s okay because it was very ver very well written” – brandi e huskey
February 20, 2019 at 7:10 PM
OK, this doesn’t sound one to add to the list, shame its been going so well. Still it would be good to read the end just to find out what the fuss was all about. Its probably already made into a film (or will be shortly) in which case I might catch it in over a decade when it comes to the “free” TV.
February 22, 2019 at 8:14 AM
Hmmmm, it might be a tricky one to make into a film, just from a technical standpoint… would be interesting to see how they did it, though!
February 22, 2019 at 9:25 AM
There’s a new 90210???? LOL.
February 23, 2019 at 11:33 AM
Apparently! 😂 Cheers, Nina!
February 22, 2019 at 1:55 PM
You sure make the premise sound intriguing, and I’ve been fascinated by the title too. Haven’t read it, but have heard mixed reports about the big reveal by people careful not to get into spoiler territory. I think some of the others have shared your reaction.
February 23, 2019 at 11:35 AM
Really, the premise and the title are the strongest drawcards for me with this one. The mixed reactions are fairly reasonable, exactly what I’d expect having now read it. Would love to hear what you think if you pick it up, Paula!
February 24, 2019 at 12:34 PM
I really loved this, burning through it on a vacation last spring. The fairy tale motif was interesting, and the story brought up real issues. But my favourite aspect was how evocative this novel was. I could picture that island and those people, feel the summer and the secrecy and the nagging confusion.
The fact that you never learn exactly why they kids are nicknamed “the liars” definitely bothered me, so I looked it up. Apparently, the author had explained that more in an earlier draft, but her editors cut it down (they cut the whole book down significantly, which is why sometimes it feels a little sparse)!
Thank you for your review!
February 25, 2019 at 2:37 PM
Ooohhh BOO to those editors! I would have loved more detail, both about history like the origins of “the liars” and the evocative scenic detail you described. Maybe one day we’ll get an edition of the manuscript in its longer/more complete form (the way we have for the On The Road original scroll now).
February 26, 2019 at 1:17 PM
Yes, that would be nice. Maybe an “anniversary edition” sometime down the road, ha!
February 26, 2019 at 10:18 AM
I remember having mixed feelings about this one. The setting was excellent and it’s always fun to read about dysfunctional wealthy families. I think the whole “liars” bit was perplexing to me as well, and I kind of hate it when I see the big “twist” coming–which I did (and I don’t feel like I’m a perceptive enough reader to predict them often, so when I do I just feel like they weren’t done very well). I’m going to do that annoying reviewer thing and say I wanted to like this more 🙂
February 26, 2019 at 10:34 AM
Ugh, there’s nothing worse than seeing the “twist” coming! It makes me feel clever, which is nice, but also extremely disappointed – not worth it. Completely understand the feeling of wanting to like it more – I call them “almost books”, as in “it was ALMOST, it was TRYING, but it didn’t quite get there”. ❤️