Friday, August 8, 2014

Young Adult Fiction: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars is the first book I have ever read by E. Lockhart, who has also written four books about Ruby Oliver (The Boyfriend List, The Boy Book, The Treasure Map of Boys, and Real Live Boyfriends), and the National Book Award finalist The Disreputable History of Frankie-Landau-Banks. I picked up We Were Liars because of the cryptic description on the inside of the book jacket, and because of the idea of something tragic happening to a family that essentially lives in a bubble every summer on their own private island.

The Situation: Cadence Sinclair Eastman lives with her mom and their three dogs in Burlington, Vermont. But they spend every summer on Beechwood Island in Massachusetts. It is essentially the Sinclair's own private island, owned by Cady's grandfather. Each of the three daughter's have their own house, where they each bring their own families and Cady's cousins. There are the older set consisting of Cady, Johnny, and Mirren, all the same age and born very close together. And then there are the littles, Will, Taft, Bonnie, and Liberty. All of them are blonde, all of them are beautiful, and all of them are rich and stand to inherit a great chunk of money from their grandparents. It isn't until the summer that the older set turns eight years old that they begin to be called the Liars. That is the summer that Gat showed up on the island. Gat is the nephew of the Indian man that Johnny's mother has begun dating. He isn't blonde, and he isn't rich, but after that initial summer, Gat is welcomed back to the island along with the rest of the family. Harris and Tipper, Cady's grandparents, don't really approve of Gat, but he is allowed on the island anyway, and everything seems fine.

The Problem: Something happened the summer the Liars turned 15. Something worse than the constant squabbling going on between Cady's mom and her sisters over the houses and their inheritance, with grandfather only fueling the fire, searching for who is the most loyal and loves him most. Something worse than Harris' subtle disapproval of Gat and his relationship with his eldest granddaughter. Cady has a terrible accident, but all she can remember is being found in the water, and sustaining a head injury. She has asked her mother many times over what happened, and her mother keeps telling her. Eventually, the doctor recommends that Cady try to remember on her own, as being reminded of the tragedy only to forget about it isn't helping. After skipping a summer, Cady returns to Beechwood, where a lot has changed. The main house where her grandfather still stays has been completely renovated, and one of her aunts has vacated the house she stayed in and has opted to stay with the grandfather, leaving one whole house for the Liars to occupy in their own. Because of her still fragile health and frequent debilitating migraines, Cady still stays with her mother, trying her best to piece together what really happened the summer the Liars were 15. Cady realizes that if the accident two years ago didn't kill her, and the migraines don't, then the truth just might. 

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel about one family that seems so perfect and happy on the outside, but is slowly deteriorating from the inside due to selfishness, greed, and the desire to always look the part. All of the Sinclair's are blonde, beautiful, and incredibly rich. The entire family gathers at their private island every summer to enjoy an idyllic season of family fun in the sun. But all of the money in the world cannot keep the marriages of the three Sinclair daughters from falling apart. It also can't keep the eldest grandchild from dating someone from another race...someone who isn't blonde with creamy white skin. As Cady gets older, even she begins to realize that her family isn't what it pretends to be: happy. Her grandfather's homespun wisdom of "never take no for an answer" is eventually revealed to be his justification for manipulating those around him and taking whatever he wants, no matter who it hurts. And it makes her sick to see him pit his own daughters against each other for his own ego. He also can't hide his true feelings towards Gat, despite the fact that he never addresses the issue directly. None of them address issues directly. And after Cady has her accident, directness is what she craves as she tries to piece together what happened. She feels like everyone, even the other Liars, are constantly hiding something from her, and no one will simply tell her what happened, insisting she remember on her own. We Were Liars takes a family full of first-world problems and has them deal with them in the worst way possible, and eventually, they end up with a very real tragedy. 

My Verdict: I think what impressed me the most about this book was that it is an incredibly easy and quick read, but it isn't necessarily light material. In fact, it deals with some incredibly dark stuff without getting too heavy-handed. And I think Lockhart handled the issue of Cady's spotty memory very well. Sometimes, having the narrative jump between the different summers as Cady tries to remember was a bit confusing, but ultimately it works out and it becomes clear as to what happened when. And although the book is fairly short (clocking in at a little over 200 pages), the story doesn't feel rushed, and nothing feels left out. Lockhart said what she needed to say and then left it at that. Also, the storyline is somewhat complex, not only because of the switching timelines, but also because of the many characters. But the plot never felt messy or all over the place. Instead, it was like being in the head of someone trying to remember something but just isn't able to grasp the main details. It is a well-done story, and definitely worth picking up. 

Favorite Moment: When the Liars begin to stand up for themselves and refuse to get involved in fighting over the inheritance that takes place between the aunts.

Favorite Character: This is one of those books where every character gives the reader a reason not to like them, but I pick Cady anyway. It isn't so much what she does or says to others, but it is more about her voice and the way she tells her story. She is dry, witty, clever, sarcastic, and even funny sometimes, even though what she is revealing is incredibly serious.

Recommended Reading: As a follow-up to this book, I recommend John Green's Looking for Alaska. It is also a YA book that deals with tragedy and loss, and how different people deal with losing someone close to them. 

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