Saturday, May 24, 2014

"We Were Liars," by E. Lockhart

The Protagonist: Cadence "Cady" Sinclair Eastman. The eldest grandchild of wealthy tycoon Harris Sinclair, she spends every summer on a private island with her grandfather, aunts, and cousins until an accident occurs during her fifteenth summer.
Her Angst: Now seventeen, she returns to the island to find out the truth. Too bad she belongs to a family of liars.

The Secondary Cast:

Johnny: Cady's cousin and the eldest Sinclair grandson. Wacky and humorous.

Mirren: Another cousin - sweet and supportive. Still, after the accident, she doesn't return Cady's e-mails.

Gat: Cady's crush and the nephew of Johnny's stepdad. Ambitious and angry, he loves her but also challenges her to look beyond her narrow worldview.

Harris Sinclair: Cady's wealthy grandfather who owns the island. Determined to teach his descendants how to uphold the Sinclair family name.

Angst Checklist:

  • Privilege
  • Brain Injury
  • Racism
  • Divorce
  • Amnesia
  • Family Secrets

The Word: Once upon a time, there was a rich man named Harris Sinclair, and he had three daughters. This man was rich enough to buy himself his own private island by Martha's Vineyard, and rich enough to build a house for each of his grown daughters so that they and their children could come and live together on the island every summer.

Of those grandchildren, the oldest three formed a club called the Liars, comprised of Cady, Johnny, Mirren - and Gat, the nephew of Johnny's stepdad. Every summer, they congregate on the island to play tennis, go snorkelling, make homemade ice cream, and eat big gourmet dinners out on the deck, the whole Sinclair family together. It's loving and idyllic, and even Cady's angst over her growing affection for Gat can't strip the magic from the place.

Until the summer when the Liars are all fifteen, and something goes wrong.

Cady sustains a brain injury and nearly drowns - only she can't remember how it happened. Two years later, she still suffers from horrific migraines that have ruined her grades and caused her to withdraw from sports and clubs. She hasn't been back to the island since Summer Fifteen, and she misses the Liars, none of whom have ever been good about staying in touch beyond the summer months. Despite her mother's misgivings, she begs to return to the island to spend a normal summer with her granddad, her aunts, and her cousins.

Yes, part of her wants to return to the summers she missed, when she was normal and pain-med free. But part of her also wants to find out what really happened during Summer Fifteen, and why her family refuses to tell her the truth.

This novel is as slender, sharp, and effective as a stiletto. With a few efficient brushstrokes, Lockhart creates a gorgeous and evocative setting that appears, at first, like heaven. Imagine spending the summer with your family on your own sunny private island - with tennis courts, board games, family movie nights in front of the flatscreen, and an efficient staff of cooks and housekeepers to clean up after you.

But nothing is perfect. We Were Liars is about the unreliability of memory - especially nostalgia and its tendency to gloss over flaws and arguments. Unwittingly rendered an outsider due to her illness and her amnesia regarding her accident, Cady starts to see her family from the outside in, and her interpretations of the events of Summer Fifteen begin to unravel as she uncovers a darker side to the Sinclair family's manipulative dynamic.

We Were Liars is also a novel about privilege. Cady starts to learn more about what it means to be privileged through her interactions with Gat. Gat and Johnny's stepdad are Indian - a fact which hasn't (and has never) gone unnoticed by the other (white, beautiful, blond) Sinclairs. Cady and the other Liars have always considered Gat one of them, so it's a shock to learn that Gat has not always felt the same way - and with good reason.

Finally, We Were Liars is about innocence that, once lost, can never be regained. About truths that, once learned, cannot be unlearned. The characterization in this novel is superb. This is a novel without villains - only antagonists. And no one in the Sinclair family is the antagonist. Rather, its their combined flaws - their fear, their grief, their greed, their pride, their prejudice, their entitlement - that rise up to destroy themselves and the people around them. It's mesmerizing.

This powerful, layered novel is not to be missed.

1 comment:

  1. TheBrokenShelf10:32 PM

    I want to read this book so bad! One day I will! Great review and thank you for your honesty!