book review: we were liars by e. lockhart (with some spoilers)

wewereliars

Summary from Goodreads:

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.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.

Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

My thoughts: I downloaded this book into my iPad when I went to Australia, and I read it in two sittings: while killing time at the airport, and a couple of days after I got back.  For me not to devour an entire book in one sitting, especially so many days apart, means that the book didn’t capture me from the beginning – in fact I forgot entirely about the book until I picked it up again more than a week later. Nothing really struck a chord with me, and I didn’t really care for any of the characters.  But the second time I picked it up, I became incredibly absorbed and invested in the story. Usually I commit myself to the world of a story because I find myself becoming invested in the characters and their growth, will XX and XX get together, please don’t let my favourite character die, etc. But for We Were Liars, my sympathy for the characters was much more muted.  Instead, I was increasingly drawn, not into the characters’ world, but into the web of lies surrounding the Sinclair family.  I wanted to know what happened next, what was the truth – not really caring for what happened to Cady, or Gat, or any of the other characters.

One thing which I particularly appreciate about We Were Liars is that none of the characters are purely good. When everyone is set up against each other, you can see the selfishness of Cady, the idealism of Gat, the flippancy of Mirren, the destructiveness of the aunts, the manipulative nature of the family patriarch.  I spent much of the book going, “down with the rich! Robin Hood! Let the idyllic private island self-destruct!”

Without realising that was what exactly had happened already. 

And, when you hit the end of the book and you realise, with Cady, what happened two years ago – everything makes sense, and suddenly everyone’s actions are tinged with tragedy, and you look upon them now not with hatred or animosity, viewing them as rich, indulgent, spoilt brats – but with pity and remorse.  One of my key problems at the beginning was that I couldn’t connect with the main characters (especially Mirren, Johnny and Gat) because they seemed so unchanging, so boring.  But their flatness made sense ultimately – because they are, throughout the entire book, nothing more than caricatures, imprints of tinted memories in Cady’s mind.  The revelation at the end is, while sudden, one of those that instinctively makes sense and calls to mind little hints of the truth revealed by characters from the first chapter.  Why her mother won’t stop watching her. Why they keep calling her away from the house to spend time with the little ones and her grandfather. Why her grandfather gets upset when she asks about the old house and the things that have disappeared. And it also caused me to revisit the characters, and revise my assessment of each one.

E. Lockhart, you are brilliant.

Another thing which impressed me about We Were Liars is that the young people are not free from moral scrutiny.  Typically in YA the young adults protagonists are the untouchable, the morally upright seeking to uproot the dystopia perpetuated by hostile adults (see Hunger Games, Harry Potter, The Mortal Instruments, etc.) Youth is portrayed often as a shining beacon of innocence and moral purity, as yet not befouled by the adult world of corruption and greed.  And that’s what you think at first in We Were Liars. This is particularly exemplified when (SPOILER):

Cady first remembers that they set the house on fire.  She believes that they were heroes, destroying the symbol of corruption and opulence within the family so that they can start anew.

But the truth, as revealed, is much more horrible, much more morally questionable. The book leaves off on a morally ambiguous note – is Cady at fault? Is she forgiven because of her youth or her ‘noble’ intentions? Would setting the house on fire in the first place have been the right solution to her family’s problems? Is the wealth of her family to blame? We don’t know. Lockhart does not provide a correct answer, and I think, neither should there be.  (end spoiler)

So in conclusion, having read a few of e. lockhart’s books in the past, I must admit that this was my favourite so far.  Brilliantly written and brilliantly thought out, cognizant of YA tropes and choosing to eschew them, We Were Liars is outstanding.  It takes a little warming up to, but the final one third of the book is thrilling and I could not put it down. Would recommend to anybody who enjoys YA, especially those looking for something different from the typical franchises.

Rating: 4.5/5

x Nat

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