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The BookBrowse Review

Published May 21, 2014

ISSN: 1930-0018

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We Were Liars
We Were Liars
by E Lockhart

Hardcover (13 May 2014), 240 pages.
Publisher: Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers
ISBN-13: 9780385741262
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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. 
Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

1

WELCOME TO THE beautiful Sinclair family.

No one is a criminal.

No one is an addict.

No one is a failure.

The Sinclairs are athletic, tall, and handsome. We are old-money Democrats. Our smiles are wide, our chins square, and our tennis serves aggressive.

It doesn't matter if divorce shreds the muscles of our hearts so that they will hardly beat without a struggle. It doesn't matter if trust-fund money is running out; if credit card bills go unpaid on the kitchen counter. It doesn't matter if there's a cluster of pill bottles on the bedside table.

It doesn't matter if one of us is desperately, desperately in love.

So much

in love

that equally desperate measures

must be taken.

We are Sinclairs.

No one is needy.

No one is wrong.

We live, at least in the summertime, on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts.

Perhaps that is all you need to know.

2

MY FULL NAME is Cadence Sinclair Eastman.

I live in Burlington, Vermont, with Mummy and three dogs.

I am nearly eighteen.

I own a well-used library card and not much else, though it is true I live in a grand house full of expensive, useless objects.

I used to be blond, but now my hair is black.

I used to be strong, but now I am weak.

I used to be pretty, but now I look sick.

It is true I suffer migraines since my accident.

It is true I do not suffer fools. I like a twist of meaning. You see? Suffer migraines. Do not suffer fools. The word means almost the same as it did in the previous sentence, but not quite.

Suffer.

You could say it means endure, but that's not exactly right.



MY STORY STARTS before the accident. June of the summer I was fifteen, my father ran off with some woman he loved more than us.

Dad was a middling-successful professor of military history. Back then I adored him. He wore tweed jackets. He was gaunt. He drank milky tea. He was fond of board games and let me win, fond of boats and taught me to kayak, fond of bicycles, books, and art museums.

He was never fond of dogs, and it was a sign of how much he loved my mother that he let our golden retrievers sleep on the sofas and walked them three miles every morning. He was never fond of my grandparents, either, and it was a sign of how much he loved both me and Mummy that he spent every summer in Windemere House on Beechwood Island, writing articles on wars fought long ago and putting on a smile for the relatives at every meal.

That June, summer fifteen, Dad announced he was leaving and departed two days later. He told my mother he wasn't a Sinclair, and couldn't try to be one, any longer. He couldn't smile, couldn't lie, couldn't be part of that beautiful family in those beautiful houses.

Couldn't. Couldn't. Wouldn't.

He had hired moving vans already. He'd rented a house, too. My father put a last suitcase into the backseat of the Mercedes (he was leaving Mummy with only the Saab), and started the engine.

Then 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,

my ears,

my mouth.

It tasted like salt and failure. The bright red shame of being unloved soaked the grass in front of our house, the bricks of the path, the steps to the porch. My heart spasmed among the peonies like a trout.

Mummy snapped. She said to get hold of myself.

Full Excerpt

Excerpted from We Were Liars by E Lockhart. Copyright © 2014 by E Lockhart. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

A teenager narrates this haunting tale of a New England family with dark secrets, entrenched in beliefs they can't seem to shake.

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I have to admit, right off the bat, that We Were Liars practically did my heart in. And I don't mean to be dramatic when I say that. The text on the back instructs the reader: "Read it. And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE." I promise I won't lie in this review, and so I am being truthful when I tell you how this story affected me, and how I think it will affect you. It shattered my heart, and the sharp bits traveled through my body and tore me up some more. I will not, under any circumstances, give you any indication of the ending. I will be silent. It is that surprising, and that good.

"Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair family," says Cadence Sinclair Eastman on the first page. Cady, the oldest grandchild in the Sinclair family, continues on:

No one is a criminal. No one is an addict. No one is a failure. The Sinclairs are athletic, tall and handsome. We are old-money Democrats. Our smiles are wide, our chins square, and our tennis serves aggressive. It doesn't matter if divorce shreds the muscles of our hearts so that they will hardly beat without a struggle. It doesn't matter if trust-fund money is running out; if credit card bills go unpaid on the kitchen counter. It doesn't matter if there's a cluster of pill bottles on the bedside table.

Cady is the narrator of this haunting tale; this story of what happened during Summer Fifteen (the year Cady turned fifteen) on the private island her grandfather owns off the coast of Massachusetts. For as long as she can remember, Cady has spent all her summers there with her family: her mother, her grandparents, her mother's two sisters - and most especially cousins Johnny and Mirren who are the exact same age as Cady. Oh, and Gat Patil, the not-white, not-wealthy, incredibly smart, passionate and political nephew of Cady's aunt's boyfriend.

Gat began coming to the island from Summer Eight. And Summer Eight was when they - Cady, the two cousins, and Gat - were named The Liars. Not quite a club, The Liars were always together, stirring up some sort of trouble. Says Cady: "I wrote our names in the sand. Cadence, Mirren, Johnny and Gat. Gat, Johnny, Mirren and Cadence. That was the beginning of us."

It was Summer Fifteen when tragedy struck. The Liars were involved. And two years later – Summer Seventeen – when this story unfolds, Cady can't remember much of it. She knows there was a mysterious accident. She knows she suffered a trauma to the head. She has intermittent migraines as a result, as well as selective amnesia. This is the first time she has been back to the island, and she is determined to uncover the truth.

With spare, brutal prose, Lockhart takes the reader into Cady's broken mind and ragged heart. Cady's mother and two aunts, daughters of a divisive, manipulative patriarch, have lead lives which have felt like they're walking on eggshells. Each daughter has strived for perfection and each has fallen short in her own way. The result is a competitive, fevered push to win the father's affection - and inheritance. The daughters, in turn, have tried to push their own children into this race. Do Johnny, Mirren, Cady (and Gat) follow in their mothers' footsteps? Do they comply? Do they push back? I have sworn to remain silent, remember?

What I can tell you is that Lockhart is a careful, smart story builder. First of all, Cady is clearly an unreliable narrator. I got the feeling she was telling the truth, and wanted to believe her (and did, to be honest), but I had to remind myself that she had memory gaps. This kept me on my toes and turning the pages. Also, despite the frustration at best (and disgust at worst) that I felt for the Sinclair family, Lockhart manages to give all of them – including the pretty darn awful patriarch – multi-dimensional qualities which humanizes them. This, in turn, actually made me care; made my heart ache and hope for each of them. Lockhart does it with small, deft strokes. We Were Liars is a meticulously constructed story, but Lockhart's precise plotting and solid foundation don't show at all. The story is simply a sharp, strong blow to the gut.

It is also a cautionary tale to families who live deeply entrenched within their own customs and beliefs; a warning that if they get in too deep they might never be able to climb out. The Sinclairs are a Grimms' fairy tale kind of family, and it is that kind of dark of which I speak. Cady repeatedly re-envisions the family story as one about a king and his three daughters. In this sense, Lockhart weaves fairy tale elements throughout the text –

I can't tell you how We Were Liars turns out. But I can urge you to read it. It will wreck your heart and confound your mind. Like me, you'll probably want to go back and read it right away, all over again, to see if you can follow the clues to the earth-shattering conclusion. This story is suited for young adult readers but adults will be amazed by it too.

Reviewed by Tamara Smith

Entertainment Weekly
You're going to want to remember the title. Liars details the summers of a girl who harbors a dark secret, and delivers a satisfying, but shocking twist ending.

Amazon Book of the Month
Sticky lemonades on the roof and marathon Scrabble games to twisty suspense, true love, and good intentions gone horribly wrong--We Were Liars begs to be read in one sitting.

Booklist
Starred Review. Surprising, thrilling, and beautifully executed in spare, precise, and lyrical prose, Lockhart spins a tragic family drama, the roots of which go back generations. And the ending? Shhhh. Not telling. Grades 7-12.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Lockhart has created a mystery with an ending most readers won't see coming, one so horrific it will prompt some to return immediately to page one to figure out how they missed it.

School Library Journal
Starred Review. The ending is a stunner that will haunt readers for a long time to come.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Riveting, brutal and beautifully told.

The Horn Book
Stared Review. A taut psychological mystery marked by an air of uneasy disorientation...The ultimate reveal is shocking both for its tragedy and for the how-could-I-have-not-suspected-that? feeling it leaves us with. But we didn’t, which is Lockhart’s commendable triumph.

Children's Literature
With a twist ending that is certain to provoke strong reactions from readers, this is a captivating read.

Author Blurb John Green, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Fault in Our Stars
Thrilling, beautiful, and blisteringly smart, We Were Liars is utterly unforgettable.

Author Blurb Scott Westerfeld, author of Uglies and Leviathan
A haunting tale about how families live within their own mythologies. Sad, wonderful, and real.

Author Blurb Robin Wasserman, author of The Waking Dark
I've fallen in love with every E. Lockhart book I've ever read (and I've read them all), but We Were Liars blows them all out of the water. Dark, gripping, heartrending, and terrifyingly smart, this book grabs you from the first page - and will never let go.

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Martha's Vineyard

E. Lockhart's We Were Liars takes place on fictional Beechwood Island. It is just east of Martha's Vineyard, and is reminiscent of it.

Martha's Vineyard Martha's Vineyard is located just seven miles off of the coast of Cape Cod. It is triangular shaped, and is about nine miles wide and 26 miles long at its farthest points - with over 120 miles of shoreline. One third of Martha's Vineyard is protected land, so quite a large chunk of it is undeveloped. The year-round population is a mere 15,000 which grows to over 100,000 in the summer months.

The Aquinnah Cliffs, in the town of Aquinnah on a southwestern peninsula of the island, frame valleys that were made by streams running off of glaciers during the Ice Age. Native American camps are estimated to have been settled on the island as 2270 BC. The Wampanoag Native Americans named it Noepe, "land amid the waters."

In 1602, English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold gave the island its name, after his daughter, Martha, and for the native wild grapes he found. The first white settlement was established in 1642 in what is now Edgartown, and a pastor named Thomas Mayhew Jr. lead the group. He was unusually equality-minded, and one of his first rulings was that no land was allowed to be taken from the Wampanoag without consent and fair payment.

Martha's Vineyard During the colonial period, the Wampanoag taught the settlers how to hunt whale, and the island prospered. Farms also did well during this time, producing surplus butter and cheese, which was exported. Martha's Vineyard took a hit during the Revolutionary War, when a British fleet sailed into the Vineyard Haven Harbor and burned ships and took sheep and cattle

In contemporary times, singers James Taylor and Carly Simon have made their homes on Martha's Vineyard - as well as writers Shel Silverstein, Judy Blume, William Styron, and Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks. Many other musicians, artists and writers have lived there too. In 1974, Steven Spielberg filmed the movie Jaws on the island. He chose three native islanders to play major roles in the movie. Spielberg subsequently filmed Jaws 2 and Jaws: Revenge there as well.

With its many beautiful beaches, today, Martha's Vineyard is primarily a tourist draw. Among its famous attractions is Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs, the oldest carousel in the United States; and the Black Dog Restaurant and Tavern founded in 1971 and known for its iconic "black dog" T-shirts.

President Obama vacations on the island in the summer - as did his Democratic predecessor, President Bill Clinton, while he was in the White House.

Picture of Gay Head Cliffs on Vineyard from Wikipedia
Map from Martha Vineyard's Chamber of Commerce

By Tamara Smith

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