I love a good beach book. In fact, at some point I’ll have to write a post about my top ten favorite books I’ve read at the beach. I’m pretty sure ‘We Were Liars’ will make the list.
I added this book to my to-read list a while back, I didn’t really remember what it was about when I decided to check it out over my kids’ Spring Break. I skimmed over the description very quickly. Wealthy family. Private island. Young adult. Sounded similar to LINE OF DESCENT, so that’s probably why I was initially interested in it.
I have to say the title of the book made me think of spoiled, cynical rich kids—something like Bret Easton Ellis might write. I expected characters that would mope, ‘Look how messed up we are since our parents are rich,’ and I wasn’t really looking forward to something like that. Thankfully, there wasn’t much ‘rich kid’ angst. More of just the good old-fashioned regular kid angst.
The book’s eponymous liars are mostly likable, goofy, and insecure teenagers. They still play with Legos and Scrabble. Their hands are scrawled with the titles of philosophy books they want to read. They use terms like ‘sexual intercourse.’ There are some bits about underage drinking and prescription pills, but nothing too hardcore.
The liars are three cousins, part of the WASPy Sinclair clan, and one other friend who is of Indian descent. Every summer the Sinclairs gather at their private island in New England where they bask in the sun or ruminate on setbacks of the previous year (deaths, divorces). And sometimes the adult Sinclairs bicker over their assumed inheritances.
The author E. Lockhart has a great, clean writing voice. Very well suited for a young adult book. Her classic style and the setting and characters reminded me of Lit-class must-reads like The Great Gatsby or The Catcher in the Rye. In fact, take away the few modern references (iPhone games, President Obama) and the book has a distinctly timeless quality to it. It could have taken place in the 1920s or the 1960s. That makes sense, because the Sinclairs’ beach estate is an isolated world of its own. The liars mention that nothing else seems to exist while they are on the island together.
Lockhart uses a canny literary trick: occasionally she allows the first-person narrative to drift into free verse poetry. It’s very cool effect that breaks up the flow of her prose, adding emphasis or creating a momentary daydream quality to a scene. She uses this trick very sparingly.
“I had come here to this island from a house of tears and falsehood
and I saw Gat,
and I saw that rose in his hand,
and in that moment, with the sunlight from the window shining in on him,
the apples on the kitchen counter,
the smell of wood and ocean in the air,
I did call it love.”
I feel like I don’t want to talk to much about the plot, because I want to avoid spoilers. I’ll say it’s very character-driven, which is great. There are lots of jumping back and forth in time, which sometimes gets a little confusing. Lockhart’s very economical with her paragraphs, which means sometimes flashbacks come on with whip-quick speed. And the book switches to new moods and plot developments just as quickly. Since I didn’t read much of the product description, I was surprised and intrigued when the story took a turn toward a mystery.
The mystery develops very nicely, but I have to say I was thrown off-balance by its resolution. I think I would have liked the book better if the mystery had been paid off in a completely different way. Even then, the ending was very sad and touching, and I think I will be thinking about this book for a while. As a reader, what more could you ask for? This was one of the best young adult books I have read in a long while.