We Were Liars by E. Lockhart Book Review

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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

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award Finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.  Read it.  And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE. 


I have sat staring at my computer screen for so long because I am unsure how exactly I want to present this book in this blog.  On one hand it is written beautifully with a dark and mysterious undertone which demands emotions to be felt.  However, at the same time I was unable to become completely invested in this book because I couldn’t connect with the characters, and logically, some aspects of this book were not plausible.  For this review I have decided to split it into 2 parts, Part I is going to be a spoiler-free review and Part II will dig deeper into the plot and the twist I never saw coming.  I highly advise all who are interested in this book to read it without knowing very much about the plot, and no matter how big your urge is to flip to the back of the book and read the ending DON’T DO IT!

Part I

Cadence Sinclair is almost eighteen years old, and she immediately tells the audience of her head-splitting migraines and her deviation from her perfect, old self.  She suffers from partial amnesia which started after the summer when she was fifteen, however, she cannot remember why.  She tells the audience that she endured an accident that summer in which she hit her head against a rock while swimming, although no one will tell her what exactly occurred. In that summer when everything seems to fall apart, Cadence vacations at a private island off the coast of Massachusetts which is owned by her extremely wealthy and privileged grandparents.  This island houses Cadence’s grandparents, her three aunts and all of the children they have; the older grandchildren, Jonny, Mirren, and Cadence along with their family friend Gat form a group which the adults call the Liars.  These four spend every waking moment together during the summers, however, when they leave the island these bonds are always broken by the distance between them.

When the story begins, Cadence is on the island once again, for the first time in two years, having been taken by her father on a trip to Europe which takes up the entirety of summer sixteen.  Upon her arrival, it seems as though she sinks into the same routine as summer fifteen; spending all of her time with the Liars.  Similar to all previous summers, the Liars rekindle their friendships, and she seems to be falling even more hopelessly and unconditionally in love with Gat.  However, the island and those who inhabit it are different this year.  The Clairmont mansion, a large Victorian house, has been completely torn down and in it’s place stands a modern, uncomfortable, and cold mansion.  Furthermore, her grandfather seems to be slipping further and further from reality, and the Liars are unable to explain  to Cadence how they spent their summer sixteen.  As Cadence spends four weeks on this private island she is determined to discover what happened during summer fifteen which changed life as she knew it, however, the truth might destroy her.

Part II: The Twist (If you haven’t finished the novel leave now and then come back and discuss the ending with us!)

Looking back on this book I cannot believe that I didn’t guess the end! I know that people more intelligent than I am were able to figure it out, but I could not even though Lockhart planted so many clues for the audience.  The deaths of Jonny, Mirren, and Gat explain why the Liars never responded to Cadence’s emails and why Cadence’s grandfather calls her Mirren occasionally.  Throughout the story Lockhart leaves the readers little details like how Taft thought that the houses were haunted, and that the new house is made from glass and iron which are non-flammable materials, but I never picked up on it!  While I was very shocked when I learned the truth about summer fifteen, I wasn’t exactly saddened by it.  I never felt connected to any of these characters, since the story is told from Cadence’s point of view. I theorize that maybe they were so flat because she did not really know who they were either; the book was constricted from Cadence’s point of view, and so I am unsure whether to commend Lockhart on her commitment to Cadence’s viewpoint, or to just simply believe that it backfired.

Even after thinking about this for days I cannot decide if Mirren, Jonny, and Gat were actually ghosts or if Cadence was hallucinating.  Although many do not agree, I fall more on the end of the spectrum who think that Cadence was hallucinating because it makes the story that much more tragic.  If she really did spend the summer with ghosts it feels as though Cadence was able to get more time with them and thus it is not as tragic.  For example in the story Gat and Cadence are rekindling their love, and there is one moment when Gat says he is sorry and that he made this so much worse.  From a ghost perspective it just seems as if the spirit of Gat wants to be with Cadence although he cannot be, and while this is tragic, it is still a two way struggle in which neither Gat or Cadence can love each other again.  On the other hand if you look at it as though Cadence was hallucinating it seems that Cadence’s subconscious missed Gat so much that she re-invented Gat and made it so he gave her flowers and made the tire swing, and then when Gat re-appears before her it was really her subconscious saying to her conscious that she was so sorry to herself because she has become attached to something which is not real.  Therefore, that to me is so much more tragic than if it was truly a supernatural story about ghosts.  Rather than a girl who gets to spend a little more time with the friends she lost in an accident, I saw a broken girl (almost like Mara Dyer) who is trapped in her mind, and is subconsciously suffering from so much pain that she not only wants to rid herself of her belongings like a penance, but she re-creates her friends because she cannot bear the truth that she was partially responsible for their demises.

If I try not to dig too deep into the logistics of this story I find that as a whole I really do enjoy it. However, looking at it from a logical and critical point of view it seems hard to believe.  The Sinclairs, who have just suffered from losing very close family members and friends, seem to unrealistically allow Cadence to escape into Cuddledown alone every day.  Furthermore, it seems so unrealistic that Cadence did not mention that she was spending her days with Mirren, Johnny, and Gat in the passing or that Cadence didn’t further question why the other Liars did not have to go to family dinners each night.  Cadence’s mother is also developed as being very concerned for Cadence’s mental condition, and thus if at one moment she was watching her daughter sleep, how could she allow Cadence retreat into isolation without questioning her.

Overall I did really enjoy this story and found it very haunting, however, I think there are some execution problems.  Despite these issues I think I would recommend this book to people not only because of the twist but because of the deeper themes of privilege and wealth.

That is all, I would love to know your thoughts about the ending, and whether you thought Cadence was hallucinating or really seeing ghosts.

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2 Comments

  1. Intriguing, I only read part one of the review because I haven’t read this book but it sounds interesting. I seem to come across this novel everywhere I go, usually with raving reviews attached and yet for some reason it doesn’t appeal to me. I think it might be partly due to the cover…it doesn’t make me want to read it. I know, judging a book by its cover, so bad!

    Great review. 🙂

    • Thanks so much! And yeah there is a lot of hype surrounding this book. If you decide to pick it up (which I really recommend) you should try and forget the hype and go into it with no expectations, because if you start reading it with really high expectations I fear they won’t be met! And I agree with the cover, and also the title, they don’t seem to fit the book very well!

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