LitStack Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

by Sharon Browning
We Were LiarsWe Were Liars
E. Lockhart
Delacort Press
Release Date:  May 13, 2014
ISBN 978-0-385-74126-2

Take a privileged family – the beautiful Sinclairs, headed by Granddad and Tipper, and their three married (at least at times) daughters – who summer on a private island across the water from Martha’s Vineyard.  Add in a bunch of blond, all-American grandchildren and one brown skinned friend; the three older cousins and the friend are all about the same age:  Cadence (also known as Cady, the narrator of the story), Johnny, Mirren, Gat.  Make these four close, at least during the summers, starting at summer eight (when they were eight) when Gat comes to the island for the first time, and you have the makings of a wonderful young adult novel that is worthwhile reading for any age.

It was around summer eight that these four – Cady, Johnny, Mirren, Gat – started to get into one kind of mischief or another; this is when they became known as The Liars.  In summer fourteen Cady and Gat had fallen for each other, even though they didn’t know enough to call it love.  But then the summer ended, and it was so hard to keep in touch away from the island.

Fast forward to summer fifteen, which had already started out poorly for Cady.

That June, summer fifteen.  Dad announced he was leaving and departed two days later.  He told my mother he wasn’t a Sinclair, and couldn’t try to be one, any longer.  He couldn’t smile, couldn’t lie, couldn’t be part of that beautiful family in those beautiful houses.

Couldn’t.  Couldn’t.  Wouldn’t.

He had hired moving vans already.  He’d rented a house, too.  My father put a last suitcase into the backseat of the Mercedes (he was leaving Mummy with only the Saab), and started the engine.

Then he pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest.  I was standing on the lawn and I fell.  The bullet hole opened wide and my heart rolled out of my rib cage and down into a flower bed.  Blood gushed rhythmically from my open wound,
then from my eyes,
my ears,
my mouth.

It tasted like salt and failure.  The bright red shame of being unloved soaked the grass in front of our house, the bricks of the path, the steps to the porch.  My heart spasmed among the peonies like a trout.

Mummy snapped.  She said to get hold of myself.
Be normal, now, she said.  Right now, she said.
Because you are.  Because you can be.
Don’t cause a scene, she told me.  Breathe and sit up.
I did what she asked.
She was all I had left.

Things don’t go all that smoothly on the island, either.  Granny Tipper is gone, having passed on some eight months earlier, and her absence is difficult.  Then Gat admits that he has a girlfriend back on the mainland.  And then, there was “the accident” – the accident that happened to Cady, the accident no one talks about.  For some reason she went swimming alone late one night off a rocky beach, and was found washed up on the shore the next morning, curled in a ball and half underwater.  It was assumed that in the darkness she must have hit her head on the black rocks; there was no other explanation for her loss of memory, for the hypothermia, for the mysterious head injury.

And there was no other explanation for the excruciating pain in her skull that surfaces about six weeks later, along with vomiting and weight loss and a diagnosis of migraines caused by traumatic brain injury.  (“I’ll be fine, they tell me.  I won’t die.  It’ll just hurt a lot.”)  Her father comes back into her life, and insists on taking her to Europe for the summer.  Cady would rather go to the island, she hates the idea of the Liars spending the summer sixteen without her, but she doesn’t have a choice.  It hurts that Gat never showed up at the hospital after the accident, and that Mirren doesn’t answer her emails.  But Cady knows full well that life on the island is like being in a whole different world, one that has little to do with what happens on the outside.

Summer seventeen.  The Liars welcome Cady back, but they seem somewhat different, a bit more aloof… a year older.  They specifically don’t talk about the accident – everyone has been told that Cady must recapture any memories on her own to make sure of the highest degree of healing, and they adhere stridently to that caution.  But before too long, the Liars once again are inseparable, even if it does sometimes feel like they are starting over.

That is, until Cady’s memories start coming back.

We Were Liars is a suspenseful, surprising, lyrical story of one young girl’s struggle to make sense of a life turned upside down, when the realization that what appears on the surface may simply mask a darkness underneath.  Written in the sparse yet beautiful language of youth, the pages fly by.  Definitely, a book that should not be missed, regardless of your age – even this early in the year, We Were Liars is already set to be one of the summer’s best reads.

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