ARC Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart


title:  We Were Liars

author:  E. Lockhart

pages: 240

format: Kindle ARC

isbn/asin: 978-0385741262

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 8/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of summer stories, family stories, poetic reads with meandering plots.  People who enjoy Sarah Dessen and John Green.  

will i read this author again?:  Yes, definitely.  Her writing makes me want to write. 
will i continue the series?:  N/A 

My Ratings Explained

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.

take home message
A devastatingly beautiful story of privilege, pain, and the good and evil magic of an endless summer.   It's a book I loved even when I wanted to scream and cry and throw it off my balcony.  

Also read Christina Reads YA's review, because she captured it so perfectly.  
For someone who disliked it, check out Khanh at Book Nookery

the basics
I was going to make a "lock" and "heart" pun, but instead I'll say: I cannot tell you every reason why I worship this book.  The fun is in the revelation, and I won't reveal the punchline.  In the simplest terms, I can say that this book moved me.  It's the kind of literary work that you'd be assigned to read in English, and you'd complain, but you'd later recall it as one of the best books you'd ever read in school.  But it's also completely accessible for the non-literary sort.  Lockhart writes with passion and authority.  Her characters read a little older, but in the way of classic literature, in a way that works and gives depth to the narrative--and also reminds you that you're reading this story from Cady's present state, remembering.  Rich with lush language and fairy tale motifs, it's a book of a secret world, the decadent rich, the growing pains of recovery, the fragility and strength of family.  Most importantly, it's filled with characters I'd die to be friends with.  I won't soon forget this one.  

plot . 4/5
For all my gushing, you'd think this would be a 5/5.  I knock off a point for symmetry.  The first part of the book, maybe the first quarter, feels disconnected from the rest.  Part of the problem is the fragmented nature of the narrative.  Cady's memories are foggy after her accident, so her recollections come in fits and starts, harks back to different times at different years.  It was a beat before I felt grounded in the time and place.  Also, the fairy tale motif of threes (a brilliant move) doesn't come in right away but stays for the rest of the book, making that first part feel even more disparate.  But too much ink on that.  The rest of the plot is much sharper and heartwrenchingly compelling.  This was a book I spurned human company for--I had to know what was next.  I had to know the secret.  The central thread is Cady's accident.  Her family is unwilling to talk about it, fearful of overloading her brain after the injury it sustained.  That's the mystery around which are nestled happy memories of past summers at the island, clumsy first loves, family feuds.  There isn't any specific adventure or wild happenings.  Instead, you get a sort of indie movie wandering that builds up a picture into an explosive ending.  

concept . 5/5
Think of Gossip Girl with a heart.  Actually it's probably nothing like that, except for the premise: a window into the decadent rich, old withering money, private islands and forest mansions.  Three daughters, their father, and their children exist seemingly only in summers.  Their lives wait for them outside, but it's summer on the island when they come to life.  Or so it seems to Cady, one of the four Liars with her two cousins and her crush, her cousin's best friend.  In their youth the island was their life and they lived in it like a fairy tale.  However, as Cady remembers past summers and struggles with this new summer in the fallout of her accident, she's faced with the cracks in the fairy tale.  The moneygrubbing aunts squabbling over their mother's china.  The selves of Cady and her friends that exist outside the island, unknown.  The perfect bubble, shattered.  With poetic language and brief fairy tales interspersed, Lockhart brings this theme alive in every word, building up the bubble--and then devastating you when it breaks.  

characters . 5/5
I've heard complaints that the side characters are hard to get a handle on.  I didn't have a problem with that.  As a reader, I'm good at reading subtleties into full-fledged humans.  As a writer, I appreciate that these characters are a mystery because they must be.  Their non-island selves are hidden to us for a reason.  That said, Cady is of course the most tangible.  I loved her instantly.  She can be petulant and naive, but she also shows a depth of soul and understanding beyond her years--without seeming like a puppet for an older writer.  She's also quite believable as a girl suffering from a trauma, without the undue angst you'd get from a lesser writer.  Mirren is the kind, anxious idealist; Johnny, the bold carefree prodigal.  Then there's Gat, incisive with every word and pragmatic to a fault.  They're a foursome that could only be created over summer--and that's half the point.  The aunts are a little less drawn-out, but we know what we need to.  They put on porcelain masks and hide their tears at night.  They fight for the love of a father who can be jolly and fun-loving and also ruthlessly cruel.  I had so many questions about them and their stories, which for me, means that I thought of them as real.  

style . 5/5
It won't win with everyone.  It's a little ornate, a little experimental.  There are choppy sentences, odd analogies, and repeated motifs.  I loved it.  Lockhart writes with a literary flair without losing her young adult audience.  Her dialogue and prose will feel a little older than her characters, I think.  It wasn't jarring to me.  To me, it was an evidence of Cady's maturity and also an artifact of the book's lofty style and atmosphere.  These are John Greenish characters, too clever for their own good and linguistically accomplished.  You have to take them with some salt.  What I loved best were the fairy tale references.  Throughout, Cady's reimagines scenes from her life into fairy tales: the three daughters, the three monsters, the three princesses.  Only these are fairy tales with dark turns and unhappy endings, presaging the true nature of the beautiful, broken Sinclairs.  

mechanics . 5/5
Not sure if this fits here, but here it will go.  This is a story about rich white people.  It's a story about privilege.  In a world of whitewashed young adult, I get that this might bug people.  Poor little rich white girl, had an accident and is sad now.  But I think if you take that away from it, you're missing the point.  And that is: privilege doesn't save you from tragedy.  Being insular can be fatal.  The best example of this is Cady's romance with Gat, the Indian son of her aunt's boyfriend.  Gat is loved by the kids and tolerated by the adults, but he's every the outsider in this East Coast whitebread bubble.  Cady is privileged and naively pursues him, but the best part is the pushback.  Gat's a clever, philosophical boy.  He knows he's an outsider.  He calls Cady out on her privilege and forces her to look from the outside at her family's china-white perfection and how Gat, in the eyes of the elders, threatens that mold.  Lockhart is very aware of the privilege of her characters and uses it to dig deeper into the dividing lines of color and status.  

But seriously--I don't get why they're called Liars.  Except for a clever book title.  

Note: I received this copy in exchange for a review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.


  1. I like how you compared it to a reading assignment.. it kind of clears my a bit more of what to expect. and I'm also interested in the experimental style you are talking about. it definitely rises my interest on this one...
    I just really need to get my hands on this one~ great review! :D

    czai @ the Blacksheep Project

    1. Thanks! It just really has that literary feel. But a GOOD reading assignment, of course. :P You should definitely check it out. It's one of the best books I've read this year. I hope you like it too!