Friday, July 25, 2014

We Were Liars [Review]

Title: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart 
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
What They Say:
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. 

What I Say:
I finished reading this book at about 4 a.m. in an absolute puddle of tears, and almost got right online to start this review before I realized how exhausted I was. I picked up this book with no idea of its premise and was pleasantly surprised at first to see that it falls into one of my favorite YA subgenres - books about classy rich kids. But this book is so much more than just that; so much crisper and quicker, so much lovelier, and so much more devastating. This book had an old money family, amnesia, and a love that spans both years and universes. That said:

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Plot: wow
Cadence is a Sinclair. The Sinclairs are an old money family that dates back to the Mayflower. Sinclairs are beautiful, they're tall, they're white. None of them are flawed, none of them are failures, none are criminals. To the outside world, at least. Cadence's grandfather owns a small island off of Massachusetts, a gorgeous idyll where Cadence, her mother, and her aunts' families have spent every summer since she was little. It's a place where Cadence, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat - the Liars - have been free and have been silly and have grown together, these three cousins and Johnny's best friend, who Cadence falls more in love with day by day. Except, after her accident during her 15th summer, Gat doesn't contact her once. Cady spends two years plagued by crippling migraines from the head trauma of this accident - the details of which she can't even remember, along with that whole summer - without even a word from him. Her should-be perfect life has mostly unravelled by the time she finds herself on Beechwood Island for her seventeenth summer. She is determined to find out how her accident occurred and what happened during summer fifteen that no one is willing to tell her. But maybe it's best she doesn't know.

Reading stories about “Classy Rich Kids” adds another layer to the fantasy of YA escapism. Books like this aren’t the kind where you connect to the main character and go on a journey with her; in this sub genre, you accept that you’re reading about complete strangers, and you’re constantly peeking curiously in on them through a window. This story flows so smoothly and hazily between past and present, a mystery in which each puzzle piece will click into place if only you are patient. Despite disconnecting with the lifestyle of the characters, you really feel Cady's veiled frustration at her own lack of memory and mental strength in the wake of her migraines and being heavily medicated - and as the underside of the perfect Sinclair family is slowly revealed, you find that you actually do connect with each of the four Liars. And suddenly you find yourself feeling for these strangers who at first you thought shouldn't complain so much. More cynical readers will claim they knew what the big final secret was all along, but although I thought I did early on, I truly did not. And it will hit you like a ton of bricks, trust. 

Characters: wow
Cadence was a wonderful protagonist. While of course she embodies the "teen girl crushed by family's expectations" trope, I didn't mind a bit. Because of her accident, she's been caught in this state of arrested development, trapped reliving (or not reliving) a summer when she was fifteen until she can finally move past it. Maybe I was too absorbed in the mystery to notice any glaring issues with her narration, but I enjoyed it a great deal. It was light and flowery at times, like the lines in the fairy tales she so often rewrites throughout the book. She works through the issues of her life through these little interval legends, because her life is meant to resemble one.

This book needs a character like Gat - the tenchically-outsider who dares to whisper that, you know, not every family has a private summer island off Massachusetts, and that people out there have it much worse than they do, to which the three others lightheartedly reply: "Stop talking, now", "Stop talking, forever", "I'll give you more chocolate if you shut up"- a simple moment that perfectly illustrates that inability/unwillingness to process certain ideas and truths that are uncomfortable - a theme that rears its head again later in a much more devastating way. In a way, clever, poor Gat is the undoing of the Sinclair family's life of splendor and almost almost-Aryan purity, in an entirely necessary way.

Mirren and Johnny started off as stock-beautiful and carefree cousins. And to be fair, for the most part they are. They help to add, however, to the calm and beautiful atmosphere of the book (if a book can have an "atmosphere"). Reading about them was like reading about the surf rising on a cool beach, these two cousins who spend schoolyears being successful and friendly and who come back each year to the island to spend months lying in the sand and wading in cool water. Sometimes, I was suspicious of how neither character has much motivation - in that they didn't seem to "want" anything, the way every character in a story must - but in that they resemble the kids they are, in the summer at least. Whatever they want in life can always wait for another, less-sunny day.

Relationships: ooh
Gat and Cadence remind me a lot of how summer-camp infatuations go - they're together in the vacuum that is Beechwood Island for a summer, and then suddenly they're apart and Cady doesn't hear from him a single time for two years. And then, as soon as she's back on the island, there he is as if no time has passed at all. Gat's worldly mindset and high empathy for others slowly pulls the three cousins - but Cady in particular - out of their fantasy-world of privilege and splendor, and I appreciate him for that.

Special Features: ooh
This feature isn't exactly special, but I liked the interconnecting family structure of this story, which even starts out with an illustrated Sinclair family tree. There's Cadence and her mother Penny, then her mother's two sisters Bess and Carrie (Mirren's and Johnny's mothers, respectively), then of course Cady's grandfather Harris. Gat is Johnny's mother's boyfriend's nephew, who is part Indian, which makes him stand out easily against the all-white background of the Sinclairs. Then there are the "littles" who are Bess and Carrie's other children, who are mostly background noise save important moments of clarity throughout the story. I have a very small family myself, so I like to see the complex dynamics that arise between so many people stuck on such a small island for three months a year.

Parting Quote:
    "Someone once wrote that a novel should deliver a series of small astonishments. I get the same thing spending an hour with you. Also, here is a green toothbrush tied in a ribbon. It expresses my feelings inadequately." 
So many of Gat's lines made me do a little goofy smile


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