Book Review: Where’s the Truth in We Were Liars?

By Natasha Kangrga

“No one is a criminal; no one is an addict; and no one is a failure. The Sinclairs are athletic, tall, and good-looking”(p.3). But don’t let this apparent perfection deceive you.

In E. Lockhart’s compelling New York Times bestselling novel, nothing is as it seems and the protagonist, Cadence Eastman, knows it. She is the oldest grandchild of the Sinclair family. Every summer until age sixteen, she and her cousins stay at their grandparents’ private island in Massachusetts: swimming, snorkeling, and playing tennis; eating fudge and drinking lemonade – it’s a dream.

Her cousins are Taft, Liberty, Bonnie, and Will; and her liars are Mirren, Johnny, and Gat. The liars do almost everything together – including getting into trouble on the island. One summer, the summer of sixteen, a terrible accident happens. However, Cadence’s memories of the accident are merely abstract images of colours and places. And no one will help her remember what happened.

The story starts off slow, but gains speed as you read. The family’s fights, secrets, and deceits seize your attention, and the writing style and narration help to hold it. A unique feature of the writing is the following thread of repetition: “Me, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat. Gat, Mirren, Johnny, and me”. Gat is referred to as “contemplation and enthusiasm. Ambition and strong coffee.” Mirren: “Sugar, curiosity, and rain.” It’s poetic. And then there is the double escape: the fairy tales within the fiction. Cadence shares some of her familial problems through the fairy tales, which are a welcome break from the pensive narration.

This first person narration, however, creates the story’s intrigue. The reader knows only as much as the narrator does. For instance, because Cadence doesn’t know why her family is withholding information from her about the accident, neither does the reader. When Cadence returns to the island two years later, she is puzzled by the new modern home that has replaced her grandparents’ traditional home; so is the reader. For answers, the reader must look beyond the narrator.

Although Cadence suffers because of her accident and family issues, I had some trouble sympathizing with her. Her wealth still offers her a desirable life. Regardless, I loved experiencing her chaotic world through Lockhart’s writing and definitely recommend this to anyone interested in an intriguing and engaging novel. 

Rating: 4/5