A few months ago I got on a busy train back from work and sat next to a girl who was reading this book. During the journey she finished the book, closed it and looked around with that lost look in her eyes like you do when you finish a good book, look up at the world and wonder how everyone is carrying on as normal after what you’ve just read. I’ve felt that feeling myself, but rarely seen it so clearly in someone else. I’d already seen this book on a few blogs and added it to my to-read list, but it was the look on her face that sealed the deal for me. I bought it the next week.
If I’d known the trauma she’d just experienced I’d have bloody well given her a hug.
We Were Liars seems to be a bit of a marmite book; some just didn’t get on with it, some fell in love with it. I am in the latter category. There’s a sea of young adult literature around at the moment, to the point where sometimes it seems to be taking over the book blogging world. This book was different for me. It stood out.
This might be something to do with the distinct writing style, something which seems to have divided readers. Lockhart writes in disjointed, fragmented prose, from the point of view of a troubled seventeen year old girl. She uses strong imagery and figurative descriptions, which can take a little bit of getting used to. For example, near the beginning of the book she describes her Dad walking out on her and her mother, saying:
“He pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest. I was standing on the lawn and I fell. The bullet hole opened wide and my heart rolled out of my rib cage and down into a flower bed. Blood gushed rhythmically from my open wound,
then from my eyes,
It tasted like salt and failure.”
Flabbergasting. Her Dad shot her? Well, no, he didn’t, this is all a metaphor for how she is feeling, but it did take me a second or so to work that out. However, once I understood how she was deploying the language used, I found it beautiful. The unique writing style only added to the book’s atmosphere for me.
The less you know about this book the better, so I’ll summarise briefly. It’s a coming of age story about a group of teenagers on the cusp of adulthood. It’s a story about a beautiful, privileged family. It’s a tale that warns of the danger of materialism. It explores vanity and identity. It’s a mystery which charts a struggle to regain lost memories. And it’s a tragedy.
The story is told from the point of view of seventeen year old Cadence, who lives with her mother and spends every summer holidaying with her extended family on a lush private island. She and her cousins have a close bond which has been developed over years of summers together, but when she goes back to the island after suffering an accident which has caused her to lose some memories, everything seems to be different. She struggles to piece her memories back together, and find out the truth behind the cause of her accident.
I can see how some felt frustrated with the main character. As it says on the back cover, this is a story about people who are beautiful and privileged, and she does come across as being a little spoilt at times. But for me, Cadence’s flaws are counterbalanced and made worthwhile by the character of Gat. My favourite character in the novel, whilst Gat is only fifteen, he seems wise beyond his years and, at times, seems the only one of the group with any substance. He is intriguing to read about. Cadence epitomises him in this quote: “Here is something I love about Gat: he is so enthusiastic, so relentlessly interested in the world, that he has trouble imagining the possibility that other people will be bored by what he’s saying. Even when they tell him outright. But also, he doesn’t like to let us off easy. He wants to make us think—even when we don’t feel like thinking.”
Whether you like the characters and the writing style or not, I feel this book is worth reading for the ending alone. It’s one that divided readers – with many people swearing that they same it coming from the beginning, and others never having had a clue. I fall within the latter group again – I was completely blown away by the twist at the end but, on thinking it over afterwards (and you will be thinking about this book after you finish) I realised that all of the signs were there. It was beautiful, poignant and tragic. I loved this book.