Warning: We Were Liars is the sort of book that is best read without knowing much about it. While I will do my best to discuss it with a minimum of spoilers, any extra knowledge of the book may diminish your enjoyment of reading it. That said, I don’t particularly recommend it. Read on if you want to find out why.
“Part of me doesn’t want to ruin it. Doesn’t want to even imagine that it isn’t perfect.”
Patriarch Harris Sinclair and his wife Tipper have three daughters, Carrie, Penny, and Bess. They spend every summer on their private island, Beechwood, at Clairmont House. The girls marry and build their own houses on Beechwood, where they return every summer with their own children. The Sinclairs are “old-money Democrats,” proudly flaunting their storied heritage, including the clichéd journey to America on the Mayflower. But beneath the perfect exterior, there are cracks, as the Sinclair daughters’ marriages dissolve one after another. Cadence Sinclair Eastman, called Cady, is the eldest Sinclair grandchild, and her parents split up just before her fifteenth summer on Beechwood. On the island, she can run free with her cousins Mirren and Johnny, and Gat, who is the nephew of her Aunt Carrie’s boyfriend, Ed. She can forget about her parents’ divorce, even as she has to cope with tension between her aunts, and try to live up to her grandparents’ expectations. But something terrible happens during summer fifteen, leading to an accident that Cady can’t remember. When she finally returns to Beechwood for summer seventeen, no one will tell her what happened, but the island itself may be the key to unlocking her memories.
We Were Liars gets off to a slow start, spending the first three quarters of the book familiarizing us with the Sinclair family. Most of the Sinclairs are not particularly likeable, but nor are they monsters. They are simply insufferable one-percenters, oblivious to the problems of the real world. E. Lockhart does an excellent job of evoking the subtle tension between family members, the quiet rivalries, and the pressure of high expectations. Fortunately, it is a relatively short book, and thus can get away with not really bringing the mystery to the fore until the last fifty pages. However, even the short length doesn’t make it easy to stick with Cady, who uses inelegant word play and hacked together metaphors, and likes to turn her run-on sentences into bad poetry by adding line breaks.
This book tells you right up front that it is unpredictable and untrustworthy, so it should come as no surprise that there is not one, but a series of twists as Cady struggles to recover her memory of what happened at Beechwood during summer fifteen. The final twist was, unfortunately, one of my least favourite twist ending tropes of all time (spoiler for the trope at that link). While the preceding twists rocked my perception of the entire book in a very shocking and satisfying way, the final reveal was so cliché that I almost regretted reading the book at all. I would only recommend this title for fans of M. Night Shyamalan-style twist endings.