Buzzy Buzz Buzz… That’s the sound of the Twitterverse the week that proofs started hitting lucky booksellers in-trays for We Were Liars. The jacket tells you nothing, just an assortment of praise from Maureen Johnson, John Green, and Scott Westerfeld, amongst others, & it had me curious – That, & an actual helpline number printed on the proof to help readers cope. Then, it made the cover of The Bookseller & it jumped up to the top few of my reading list. THEN my favourite bookseller friend raved at me to read it so we could talk about it, & she’s never steered me wrong, so it immediately leapt to number one (making it the THIRD Hot Key published book I’ve read in a row – Four now I’m on Goose by Dawn O’Porter). What I got was… Something unexpected, gripping & beautiful.
Cadence is the eldest granddaughter of the wealthy, powerful American family of Sinclair, & heir to the majority of her grandfather’s estate. Every Summer for as long as she can remember, her aunts & cousins have all congregated on the private Sinclair family island – Swimming in the sea, catered for & waited on hand & foot by hired help. Here, she forms a group of friends with two cousins of her own age, Johnny & Mirren, & the nephew of Jonny’s Stepfather, the exotic & fiercely bright Gat. Together, the four of them are the Liars – They spend their summer days in a haze of good food & island adventures… But the idyllic lifestyle of the rich is a thin, bitter framework, & over the years, the Liars soon start to realise that their families don’t stand up to the glorious Sinclair vision they put out to the rest of the world. Summer 15 rolls around & something happens. Cadence is found on one of the island’s beaches, in her underwear, with no memory of how she got there, or much of the summer at all. Then the migraines start, powerful & debilitating pain that prevents her from reuniting with her beloved Liars over Summer 16. When Summer 17 finally comes, Cadence is still unable to remember the events of two years previous, & when she arrives on the island, no-one will help her to remember how she ended up on the beach that night. The conversations are strained; drunken arguments echo in the night & the friendship of the Liars seems fragmented & shattered. Something so horrible happened that her brain would rather collapse into a black hole of agony than let her remember.
I struggled with We Were Liars for the first few chapters. Lockhart’s writing is beautiful, but I found the Sinclair family entitled & stuck-up – But once you get further down the rabbit hole that is this book, you understand why the characters start out so oblivious to the world, living in their petty material existence, & as the family’s cracks begin to show, you realise that they aren’t as wholesome & happy as the opening chapters would have you believe.
Cadence is a troubled young girl, dealing with her growth into adulthood, & starting to feel the strain & pressures of being the eldest grandchild to such a powerful estate – One she’s starting to doubt she even wants. Material objects don’t bring her joy, & she sees her Mother & Aunts constantly bickering about possessions, drinking themselves into a rage. Her natural intelligence & kind-hearted nature sets her at odds with the greedy intentions of the older generations of Sinclairs, & her troubled, migraine addled brain is determined to be nothing like them. She’s also well read & has an extensive vocabulary, as well as a penchant for melodramatic speech, which makes her descriptions of her events & her headaches flow with a certain sense of poetry, almost Shakespearean in the way it falls off the page. We read the story with her sense of mystery & frustration as well, with memories suddenly forced into our view mid-event, & so we try to solve the riddle of Summer 15 along with her, giving us a great insight into her feelings towards her entitled, argumentative family & her frustration at being denied the truth in the hopes she’ll remember herself as part of her two year long recovery. Johnny & Mirren are both superb characters, young & idealistic, determined to make a break from their parent’s materialism, using their money for good around the world. Jonny especially has a brilliantly bright, vibrant attitude – a combination of care-free & sharply determined. Gat is one of the best characters though, the perfect poetic compliment to Cadence. He’s well read, with a fierce streak against the injustices in the world, & not being a Sinclair, he’s Cadence’s chance to blossom away from their insular little rich-family world. As the two begin to develop a relationship, it’s sweet, powerful & all encompassing, but also clearly a young love thing. So often I get frustrated by characters in books falling blindly in love at 16 years old, but both Cadence & Gat treat their relationship with a very mature, worldly understanding… Especially knowing that Grandfather Sinclair would never approve of their emerging relationship.
Ultimately, E. Lockhart’s book is a mystery, & a tensely wrapped one, the peels away layers ever so slowly, creating deeper, darker shadows of confusion & intrigue up until the last few chapters. Through Cadence’s occasional faux fairytales that intersperse the book, we get a glimpse at hidden messages & clues that indicate that she remembers more than she is willing to admit, but not so much that the plot is spoiled too soon. As the mausoleum of her locked away memories starts to crumble, we get a sheer, raw flood of guilt, shame & despair that once you know about it, you’ll realise it permeated the book all along, through Lockhart’s superb use of subtle language, metaphor & simile. Seriously, the work of English language in this book is poetic, rich & textured, look a patchwork quilt, where even the pieces that don’t match, compliment in the strangest way. The sentence structure is punchy, short & direct, creating a fast pace in the plot, & creating a fractured & disjointed narrative that reflects Cadence’s psyche perfectly.
We Were Liars is a book that I ravenously devoured, one that shows an immense talent with words, & tugs at heart strings. The ending had me in tears, because it was beautifully realised in a very classic way. There is no happy ending, but that’s the point. Cadence learns a lot about life, the fragility of the idealism of youth, & ultimately, she learns about growing up in a world where everything just can’t be how you dream it can. I urge you to read it.
Hope you enjoyed reading,
See you next time!
P.S. You can find author E. Lockhart on Twitter here.
We Were Liars is out May 13th 2014. Expect a lot of attention.