Truth or Lies in ‘We Were Liars’?



We Were Liars by E. Lockhart


Plot: 20/20

The plot centres around Cadence and her accident on Beechwood Island. She has trouble remembering what occurred and the doctors and her mother refuse to help her, telling her that she must remember in her own time. Nothing is quite what it seems. You’ll fall into her world, trying to sort fact from fiction (in a world of fiction – meta-fiction?) and you’ll arrive at an ending that will leave you breathless and completely stunned.

Narration: 20/20

Cadence has a really poetic way of describing things that imbues the narrative with a sort of fluid consistency. The contrast between long and shorter sentences (even sentence fragments) makes it easy to absorb the information. As the unreliable narrator, she adds another dimension to the story. She keeps you on your toes. She forces you to question everything you hear and the story itself will be a completely different experience for each reader.

Character: 20/20

I was fascinated by Cadence. As a character, I warmed to her instantly. I love how Lockhart personifies her emotion throughout the story. The side characters – Johnny, Mirren, Gat, Mummy – are fine. They serve their purpose and I like them and Cadence’s interactions with them but she’s the star. Her fairytale analogies are interesting and relate back to her character but more importantly, they allow us to understand what is happening on another, more emotional level and also allow Cadence to make sense of everything around her.

Quality of Writing: 20/20

The writing style is simple but beautiful. The fairy-tale analogy is one that I have never seen used in a (YA) first-person narrative in a such a way that it is fused to such a distinct, narrative voice. Usually, sentence fragments tend to annoy me but here, and in the only other exception I can think of, Sally Green’s Half-Bad, they work. The nouns-as-adjectives style works well because it’s consistent:

“He was contemplation and enthusiasm. Ambition and strong coffee. I could have looked at him forever.”

This style of writing literally reflects Cadence’s accident and her ability to recall events.

Some other excerpts that I loved:

  • There is not even a Scrabble word for how bad I feel.”
  • “We are liars. We are beautiful and privileged. We are cracked and broken.”
  • “She is sugar, curiosity, and rain.”
  • “I suffer migraines. I do not suffer fools.”

Setting: 10/10

Beechwood Island is a fantastic, vivid setting. There’s a map before you read the story though you won’t need it. Lockhart captures the detail of the family home in sharp, succinct detail. Though Cadence contradicts herself with other detailing, Lockhart manages to bring the island to life from her perspective which is truly a remarkable feat.

Comparative Literature: 10/10

I’ve never read a book with an unreliable narrator but it is not this alone that makes this book stand out. It’s a single element and it’s this, mixed with the sentence structures, the unique descriptions, the poetic snapshots of the scenes and Cadence’s world and her relationship with the Liars. It’s a story about family and friendship; one of greed and money; lies and truth; love and loss.

NOW, to Skip to the GOOD BIT:

  • Poetic writing style
  • An interesting slant on traditional narration
  • A story that will touch your heart
  • A character that you can’t help but empathize with (though you might find your empathy will be strained at times)

Overall Score: 100/100

Books You May Also Like:

Half-Bad by Sally Green – though the content is world’s apart (literally), the story-telling ability and narrative structures are quite similar

I Was Here by Gayle Forman – I include this here because the connection I had with Cadence, is similar to the one I had with Forman’s narrator, Cody. Also, behind the story, lies a sort-of-mystery, much like Lockart’s tale (***Publishes in January 2015***)


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