Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

I’ll be fine, they tell me.
I won’t die.
It’ll just hurt a lot.
Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ (4.8/5 stars)

What’s This Book About?

Genre: YA contemporary/suspense

Synopsis: We are liars. We are beautiful and privileged.

We are cracked and broken

A tale of love and romance

A tale of tragedy

Which are lies?

Which is truth?

You decide

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.

What I Thought:

I went into this rather apprehensively as I’d heard some mixed reviews…but holy moly this was so much better than I expected! It was incredibly easy to read in one sitting, with great plot exposition that wrings every drop of tension and unease from its narrative body. I’m even in a semi book-hangover and sorely tempted to re-read the whole thing, just so I can see the lead up to the plot twist (a huge one, btw) with new eyes. (Plus the whole book gets extra points because of the several-time name-drop of the Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne Jones!)

The end twist was incredible. Both the initial shock of the reveal, and the slow horror of the aftermath made my blood run hot and cold, and I never saw it coming. Foreshadowing was handled excellently through intermittent ‘fairytales’ written by the protagonist, Cadence (Cady). The ‘king’ is based on her grandfather, the patriarch of the Sinclair family, and the ‘princesses’ on his three daughters. These fairytales allude to what’s about to happen in the following chapter, and because of Cadence’s self-professed penchant for twists of meaning, you’re never quite sure how the fairytale will play out in real-time…only adding to the suspense. My favourite fairytale was by far the witch-centred story – creepy, foreboding and full of a mounting dread as you try and guess precisely how this fairytale relates to the ‘accident’ that Cadence was in.

We Were Liars would not have been half as impactful if its setting hadn’t been so vividly atmospheric. I myself found it hard to breathe sometimes on this tiny little island with nowhere to hide.

Where to go? I cannot face the Liars at Cuddledown. Red Gate might have Will or Aunt Carrie. The island is so fucking small, actually, there’s nowhere to go. I am trapped on this island…

Though I must ask – what kind of name is ‘Cuddledown’ for a building??

I loved the complexity of the characters, both the Liars and their extended families. I enjoyed how Lockhart uses them to present nuanced depictions of class, wealth, privilege and racism. You can be racist and not consciously realise. You can be filthy rich and still suffer so much pain you want to die. And I liked that sometimes, the fairytale episodes were used to further flesh out these delicate issues, especially regarding Gat, Cadence and Grandpa Sinclair. No one’s all bad, nor are any of them particularly great people. Nonetheless, I became invested enough to have tears sliding down my face by the end. I can’t really give a spoiler-free explanation that can encapsulate how and why I felt that way, but I loved the dynamic between the Liars so much.

Despite my selfishness, despite my whining, despite my stupid dumb luck…and inability to appreciate it…They have said they love me.
I have felt it in Gat’s kiss.
In Johnny’s laugh.
Mirren shouted it across the sea, even.
Some of their scenes are so poignant and evoke such nostalgia (even though I’ve never been on a private island nor had a friendship group like that – so god knows where the nostalgia is coming from)…and I loved Cadence’s character development in the wake of the truth.
I find a Sharpie and write on my hands.
Left: Be a little. Right: Kinder.

The blossoming, years-in-development romance between Cadence and Gat was also so wistful in its first-love purity, and they’ve left little imprints on my heart.

I had come here to this island from a house of tears and falsehood
and I saw Gat,
and I saw that rose in his hand,
and in that one moment, with the sunlight from the window shining in on him,
the apples on the kitchen counter,
the smell of wood and ocean in the air,
I did call it love.
It was love, and it hit me so hard I leaned against the screen door that still stood between us, just to stay vertical.

I still can’t shake the feeling that everything I’m writing (while trying to avoid ruining the big twist) is completely failing to convey the emotional knot I became while reading this book. I hope that so far you’ve been able to catch at least some of it!

Most of the time, the writing style worked beautifully. There are these poetry-esque line breaks from time to time-

I plunged down into this ocean,
down to rocky rocky bottom, and
I could see the base of Beechwood Island and
my arms and legs felt numb but my fingers were cold. Slices of seaweed went past as I fell.

By and large, I thought it was very lyrical, but sometimes it did get slightly distracting. I’m also not sure if it’s because I’m not a Lit student or what, but some of the metaphors went over my head. Cadence is always saying how she’s bleeding…is this literal (as in, she cuts herself) or…like her tears or something? I was so confused. Especially when she says her dad shot her in the chest, I nearly dropped the book in shock…till I realised it was, again, metaphor. Another little niggle was that between all the flashbacks and fairytale segments, I did occasionally find it hard to remember if I was reading a present-day chapter or a memory.

All in all however, I’m definitely pleased I decided to give this book a try. I’m probably even going to re-read it from time to time when I want a dreamy-wallowing-in-forlorn-emotion sort of book.

[T]hey know that tragedy is not glamorous.
They know it doesn’t play out in life as it does on a stage or between the pages of a book. It is neither a punishment meted out nor a lesson conferred. Its horrors are not attributable to one single person.
Tragedy is ugly and tangled, stupid and confusing.

Thanks for reading! Have you read We Were Liars or something similar? Let me know below, I’m keen to find more books like this one!

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