Friday, October 3, 2014

Book Review: We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart

Once in a while, a book comes along that is so honest, so true, so close to home, that it takes your breath away. This is one of those books.

Here's the publisher's copy:

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.

(Okay, seriously - that last line? It's too cheesy. Whatever. The copy is not the book.)

On the surface, this is a book about a wealthy teenaged girl recovering from an accident, on a private island surrounded by her wealthy family. If you look deeper, this is still a book about a wealthy teenaged girl recovering from an accident, on a private island surrounded by her wealthy family. But it is also a book about what happens when money becomes one's sole purpose; about what happens when maintaining the illusion of perfection becomes more important than everything else; about what happens when we stop listening to each other, and stop trying to talk to one another. It is a book about the danger of lies. It is a book that reveals the truth.

I don't want to reveal anything about the plot in this review, so I'm going to stick to talking about narrative devices that I liked. The story is told in first person, from the perspective of Cadence, who has experienced selective amnesia ever since being found in the water off the beach on her family's island two years ago. She mostly uses a traditional prose format for her narrative, but occasionally she falls into free verse, and I like that. It feels like the way we think sometimes.

She also uses fairytales as a way to convey meaning, and as the narrative progresses and her amnesia slowly gives way to memories, the fairytales change. I really like that aspect of this book. I think people look for their own lives in stories, and we often have to change the stories in order to fit our lives, and I like that this book recognizes that.

I saw the "twist" coming - the ending was no surprise to me. It wasn't any less heartbreaking for it, but I saw it. I had been looking for it from the beginning - maybe because the book was set up as a book of lies, or maybe because something very much like this happened to my family. Not exactly like this - the stories and the truth never line up in their details. But in the deeper truth, in the heart of it, they are the same, so I wasn't surprised.

And I guess that's the last thing I want to say. That this is a made-up story, but if you look deeper, it is a true story about someone. Someone I knew; someone you know right now. That people, even really smart, wealthy, well-educated people, sometimes make stupid decisions, and do stupid things that lead to awful consequences, and then lie about them. To you; to me; to themselves. And that I really hope you read this, because it is the truth.