E. Lockhart’s young adult novel We Were Liars has been designated by some as the Gone Girl of the teen set. Similarities include an unreliable narrator who leads the reader astray, the unexpected twists that change the plot, and of course, the shocking revelation at the end. Do not skip to the last section titled “truth” if you like to savor the mystery and try to figure it out yourself.
- The setting: a rich family summering at their Martha’s Vineyard compound
- The characters: the wealthy family patriach, with three divorced daughters bickering over trust funds and inheritance, and assorted grandchildren
- The Liars: the three teenage cousins, including the narrator, Cadence, and a handsome outsider, Gat, a love interest for Cadence
Summers in New England are intense, as Lockhart methodically peels away the facade of the perfect rich family, revealing petty jealousies and hidden prejudice. An accident during the summer of her 15th year leaves Cadence with crippling migraines and total amnesia. She cannot remember what actually happened, and Lockhart cleverly sustains the mystery, with clues that don’t seem obvious until the end. When Cadence returns to the beach, two years later, all is revealed in a stunning plot twist.
Throughout the story, Lockhart inserts shortened versions of fairy tales, linking the cousins, their mothers, and the grandfather – an eerie Grimm perspective. Like a Grimm fairy tale, the story has a moral and a high price for redemption. The ending left me wondering if Cadence ever would recover – although she does finally remember. Lockhart may have offered a strong lesson for younger readers about greed and keeping up appearances, but I will remember her observations of the fairy-tale family who actually lived in a nightmare.