Book Reviews 2014 · Contemporary Books · Young Adult Book Reviews

‘We Were Liars’ by E. Lockhart

We are liars

We are beautiful and privileged

We are cracked and broken

A tale of love and romance

A tale of tragedy

Which are lies?

Which is truth?

You decide

5 Stars

‘We Were Liars’ is a book which I had read a great deal of positive reviews about, but I wasn’t sure if it would be my thing. In fact, on the day I bought it, I put it back on the shelf and got another book, and only went back to buy it because I found a £5-off voucher in my wallet later that afternoon. I am incredibly glad that I did go back – this has easily become one of the best books I have read this summer.

I’m going to tell you this from the beginning: if you have not read this book and want to, leave now. This book is so much better if you do not know anything about it when you begin it.

~SPOILERY BIT~

Continuing that point, there was one small thing which annoyed me more than anything: the Publishers Weekly review on the back of the book – ‘Lockhart has created a mystery with an ending most readers won’t see coming…it will prompt some to return immediately to page one to figure out how they missed it’ – revealed more information than I wanted to know. Because of this, I knew that there would be a massive twist at the end, and that there were clues along the way which would cause me to kick myself if I missed them. Armed with this knowledge, I went into this book aware that anything could be a clue to the massive plot twist, and had in fact guessed the entire plot by the midway point. This had me seriously disappointed, as the twist was in fact fantastic, and I enjoyed it immensely. I just feel that, had I gone into the book without any knowledge of these clues, I would have enjoyed the twist a lot more when it came.

Saying that, I did adore the end, and even though I had realised a lot earlier on that the Liars were dead, I was still incredibly moved when Cadence finally recalled the tragedy. From the final ‘fairytale’ (chapter 79) onwards, I was constantly teary, and it takes a good book for that to happen! I felt that the entirety of part 5 was beautifully written, and I found myself crying at so many intervals, most notably chapter 82, when Cadence acknowledges her blame for Johnny, Gat and Mirren’s deaths.

The clues as to the end started (as far as I can tell) in chapter 12, with the fact that neither Johnny nor Gat ever contacted her after Summer Fifteen. This is glossed over as insignificant, as she states that she was not expecting them to. As the story progresses, the clues become more and more obvious. Of course, knowing that they were there, and undeniably searching them out, I cannot say the point at which the clues became truly obvious for me, as I was scrutinising every bit of information. However, I feel that if I were reading this without hunting out information, I would have enjoyed this gradual progression from obscure foreshadowing to clear clues.

A debate I have seen crop up many times is whether Johnny, Gat and Mirren appear as ghosts in Summer Seventeen, or whether they are hallucinations created by Cadence. I believe that they are figments of her imagination; that she is subconsciously in denial that she killed her friends, so instead manages to fabricate them to try to cover up the fact that they are no longer alive. Many people who believe that they are ghosts use the argument that Taft calls Cadence to complain of ghosts in Cuddledown, which is where the Liars reside that year. I believe that it is because of this phone call that she places the Liars there in her brain; Taft calls to mention that he believes Cuddledown is haunted, therefore she places the hallucinations of her friends within the cottage, as her subconscious makes the link between the ghosts and the imaginary Liars. Taft is young, and his belief in ghosts may be due to secretly wanting them to exist, in the hope that there is some way in which he could contact his sister again. I feel the same applies to Bonnie’s interest in  the supernatural (she wants something to exist after death to cling on to her sister’s existence) and Will’s nightmares (he has bad dreams as a consequence of his brother’s death). I believe that Taft’s ghost story is the reason for the Liars appearing in Cuddledown, and is a childish fantasy stemming from loss, instead of being due to the ghosts of Johnny, Mirren and Gat actually residing in Cuddledown.

Female speakers are something I have always found incredibly whiny and irritating; I suppose, as a female reader, I do not like to hear other girls dwell too much on their problems (which often revolve around love triangles, boyfriends and other situations which I do not want to hear others whine about, probably due to a lack of interest in my own life). However, I feel that we see a proper progression with Cadence. At first, when we see her talking about her injuries for long periods of time, I did not feel that it was overbearing, as it was information that we needed to understand her situation. However, I was incredibly glad when this was not carried through to the next time a headache arose. I feel that, had Lockhart written each of Cadence’s headaches with such self-pity, I would have been a lot less interested in the story. However, as the book progresses, the emphasis on her headaches fades until we get only necessary information. This made me have a sympathy with the character which would have been somewhat lacking if she had been as self-pitying as I initially thought she could be.

The layout of the book was slightly different to anything I have read in recent times; the chapters were short, often no more than three or four pages. I found this convenient. Sometimes I can get frustrated as I want to put a book down, do not want to finish in the middle of a chapter, and if the chapters are incredibly long, the story can drag on forever while I wait for the chapter to end. I never had that issue with this book, as the bite-sized chapters often took such little time to finish. Overall, I was shocked by how thin the book actually is. With 225 pages (Hot Key Books paperback, UK) this is not a long story at all. The fact that there are 5 parts and 87 chapters seems to make the book feel longer than it is, but at the same time, not overbearingly long, as these chapters are incredibly short. I never felt like the book was too short or prematurely ended, just well-condensed, which can be tricky to get right, so I applaud Lockhart for that.

One thing I have to point out which I did not like so much was Lockhart’s use of metaphors, the one springing to mind being “then he pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest”, used as a metaphor for her dad’s departure paining her. This statement is undeniably eye-catching, and shocked me the first time I read it, even though it is clearly metaphorical, however I suppose that this kind of writing does not sit well with me. It was not the use of the metaphor I disliked – that first line was not that bad in my eyes – however I did not like the fact that an entire metaphorical paragraph about her heart rolling into the flowerbeds was spun out of this one line. I just felt it was unnecessary.

Overall, I am very glad that I returned to the bookstore to buy this book. It was a great summer read, with a mystery that, had I not been so conscious of clues, I suspect would have been even more shocking and enjoyable than it was. E. Lockhart did a great job on this book, and I am certainly interested in reading more of her books now. ‘We Were Liars’ is a book which I would have no qualms about reading over and over again.

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