Staff Review: We Were Liars

9780804168397_246a9We Were Liars

E. Lockhart

Delacorte Press

$17.99

Available 13 May 2014

I’m supposed to lie. That’s what they’re telling me at least. According to the publisher’s comments, “Read it. And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.” Well I’m not going to tell you how it ends, but I’m not going to lie either. We Were Liars is a gut-punching book. You could probably tell that from the cover, the title, and the publisher blurb.

I’m not going to lie, but I will talk about the beginning, the writing, and a few of my favorite references. We Were Liars is about the Sinclair family: “the beautiful Sinclair family”. The family owns houses and a small island off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. Cadence, the narrator, introduces us:

Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair family.

No one is a criminal.

No one is an addict.

No one is a failure.

The Sinclairs are athletic, tall, and handsome. We are old-money Democrats. Our smiles are wide, our chins square, and our tennis serves aggressive.

The story is engaging. The narrator empathetic. But it is Lockhart’s writing style that really draws the reader in to this book. Prose frequently gives way to short, poetic lines that convey scattered memories, and an unsettling urgency. Urgency to make the reader comprehend something that Cadence herself doesn’t fully grasp. The urgency for Cadence that she explain — truly explain — her family; a family that she herself is struggling to understand. From the first page Cadence’s voice is fractured, split, ripped apart. Although she strives for coherence, when it comes to her family, Cadence relies on poetry as poetry can convey emotion, even when meaning is elusive.

Local residents and Cape Cod visitors will appreciate Lockhart’s descriptions of Martha’s Vineyard and I was delighted with the brief mentions of Woods Hole  — not the ferry, of course, the Sinclairs use private transportation. We Were Liars is also infused with references to Robin McKinley, Diana Wynne Jones, Wuthering Heights, and Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books. These direct references are underscored by a plot that is complicated and demands close reading, much like Jones’s excellent books; character allusions to the outsider within — or the insider from without — that informs the plot of Wuthering Heights; and the narrative style of fairy tales that serve to simultaneously distance the story, as if it takes place once upon a time, while still conveying universal truths about family and love.

We Were Liars is smart, thought provoking, and unforgettable. I would never lie about that.

~ Sara

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