We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

A review of the young adult romance novel We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.

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We Were Liars is a very clever and quite deceiving young adult story, with realistic scenarios many readers will understand and be able to relate to, whether teenager or not.

The main character is Cadence, a girl who lost her memory last summer, when she and her cousins all turned 15 at the private island her family own. Cadence is told the event that triggered her memory loss was an accident, but isn’t allowed to know anything more since her doctors say it will only worsen her depression, weight-loss, anxiety, and severe headaches that already leave her bed-bound for days at a time.

We learn of Cadence’s life through her memories of long summers spent with her family on the island. We meet her grandad, her aunts, her many cousins, and all the dogs. We get to know the main characters—the cousins Cadence ages with—Mirren and Johnny, and later Gat, who is the son of one of her aunt’s boyfriends, and as the years progress becomes Cadence’s love interest.

Still without any memory of that fated summer of the accident, Cadence is finally allowed to return to her family’s island and be reunited with her ‘Liars’—Mirren, Gat and Johnny—for a few weeks the following year. But there is something very different about each and every member of her family, which has to be linked to the accident no-one will tell her about. Over the days Cadence secretly pieces together the puzzle of her missing memory, recalling smells and conversations and emotions, and slowly discovers the truth of her past at the same time as the reader, allowing them to fully submerge themselves in her story.

When I finished We Were Liars I had to read it again, straight away. I had to appreciate the story with my newfound knowledge of the accident, which threw a whole new light on most of the characters and allowed me to fully understand their motives and actions.

One of my favourite things about this story is how richly Cadence describes her memories, allowing the reader to experience every detail for themselves. I could almost taste the extravagant meals the servants provided, feel the satisfying burn of the sun on my skin while the Liars spent their days on the beach, and taste salt on my lips when they swam. This beautifully rich description brings the reader a nostalgia of the carefree innocence of youth, while keeping the mix of dialogue and description perfectly balanced so as to never overdo the details. This story, for me, is like eating Pringles; the taste isn’t overwhelming enough to ever really get full, but each portion, each page, has just enough tasty flavour to keep you coming back for more.

Another aspect of this book I greatly enjoyed was how Cadence occasionally disappears into her own imagination when things around her are becoming too confusing, or the pain of her migraines become too much to bear. She imagines all sorts of scenarios to explain the pain she feels, from her grandad wielding an axe to her throbbing head, to her father shooting her in the chest when he leaves her and her mother. She also quite often thinks up little fairy tales featuring members of her family, which are dark and graphic and far more reminiscent of Brothers Grimm than anything by Disney.

Although this story is quite short, it manages to realistically touch upon and sometimes delve into important life issues, such as class separation, racism, depression, PTSD, and self-harm, as well as containing more frequently written about themes in Young Adult Literature such as first love, family rivalry, loneliness, alienation and broken parents.

I have read this book half a dozen times and would happily read it again, because I notice something new in the behaviour and dialogue of the characters every single time.

This story also has the ability to make me want to be Cadence in certain moment, even despite her memory loss and migraines and all the confusion, because of her sun-soaked and carefree summers, her bond with her cousins, and her developing closeness to her love interest Gat—and for me, wanting to become the protagonist despite all the turmoil of their story, is what makes a Young Adult book brilliant.

And also, without giving too much away as to the discovery Cadence makes of her accident, I can’t help but wonder if it really was an accident after all, or a very clever and ruthlessly strategic part of a much bigger plan.

Rebecca Delphine is a Young Adult author from Thanet.

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