The story of one family, one summer, and one act that may never be forgiven. 'Thrilling, beautiful and blisteringly smart - utterly unforgettable.' JOHN GREEN.
Emily Lockhart is the author of eight YA novels including The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, a Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book, a finalist for the National Book Award, and recipient of the Cybils Award for best young adult novel. She has a doctorate in English Literature from Columbia University and has taught composition, literature and creative writing. Her books have been translated into ten languages. Visit Emily online at emilylockhart.com and follow @elockhart on Twitter.
'Diving into the pages of We Were Liars is like entering another reality. It is beautiful, mysterious and tragic, and impossible to put down. The perfect family, that is anything but. I kept trying to guess the final twist that was waiting for me, but never could, and in the end I think it was mostly shock that left me sobbing hysterically. The complexity of the story and its characters was mind-blowing. I loved We Were Liars, and I hated We Were Liars, and I am so glad that I read We Were Liars.' Emma, 19
'The book was an interesting story of how a major occurrence was seen by many. I was surprised about what led up to it, and how people took it. Of course there were twists and turns, but these just made me think about it a bit more. A really good story for getting people to think and about people’s reactions to an incident. Great to see a book with a different theme.' Tara
'The writing is pretty spectacular. If you need any reason to read this, read it for the writing. It's haunting. It's gorgeous. It's so goddamn poetic. I actually get flustered when I think about the writing in this... Overall, We Were Liars is a fantastic read. Easily up there in my top 2014 books so far. It's just a book you really need to experience.' (Read the full review here) Jocelyn, 18
'The short chapters also made it easy to read. They sucked you further into the story before you had a chance to realise how far you've read and how late the day or night has become. It was a very addictive novel that gets you thinking.' Liana
So much hype surrounds E. Lockhart’s novel We Were Liars that you can’t help but wonder whether such high expectations will result in great disappointment. After all, the blurb on the cover, which declares that the novel is “thrilling, beautiful, blisteringly smart and utterly unforgettable”, is written by the demi-god of Young Adult fiction, John Green. However, rest assured that this novel lives up to expectations and indeed surpasses them.
The novel is told from the point of view of Cadence Sinclair whose description of her family immediately evokes images of The Kennedys: a family of great wealth, tradition, talent and beauty, but a family that is haunted by tragedy. Cadence’s story seems straight forward enough; she is a teenage girl whose parents have separated, she is in love with Gat and her life seems relatively safe and predictable. However, always at the back of your mind you know that it can’t be simple and predictable because of the novel’s title, its description as a sophisticated suspense and the blurb’s emphasis on secrets.
Indeed the selling point of the text is the line “If anyone asks you how it ends, just lie”. Obviously I am not going to reveal the ending, but I will share the fact that it is unexpected and deeply moving. Something has happened to Cadence, something so traumatic that she cannot remember what it is and no one will tell her. Consequently her narrative voice is fragmented, reflecting her confusion about herself. What is interesting about the novel is how it touches upon issues of morality, greed, isolation, racism and memory. It is the exploration of these themes that elevates the novel beyond the realm of Young Adult fiction.
Lisa Black, English Teacher, Kelmscott SHS WA
This is one of those rare books that remains with readers long after it’s finished. It is shocking, confronting, devastating.Cadence cannot remember what happened that terrible night. Why was she in the water? Why was she only wearing her underwear? Was someone else with her? She knows her only chance of remembering is by returning to the family island where she spent that summer. But it’s not easy. No one will talk to her about that night. She is cocooned by a protective silence. Gradually, fragments of memory resurface, but when the full story is finally revealed, nothing can protect Cadence, or readers, from the shocking truth.
This is a deceptively simple story told with an economy of language that powerfully captures the essence of a family. It illustrates the way families develop their own cultural norms, and the costs of conforming to, as well as rejecting, these constraints.These issues of family and truth would lend themselves to classroom discussion. Exploring the traditions and assumptions of one’s own family could be an interesting and rewarding experience for senior secondary students. Themes of friendship and individuality could also be examined.
This novel is packed with intertextual references which would provide rich fodder for English classes. Cadence, who narrates the story, frequently uses half-invented fairy tales to make sense of family dynamics, demanding readers consider layers of meaning, and suggesting the constructed nature of relationships. Students already familiar with Shakespeare’s King Lear and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights would be rewarded by the allusions to these texts and the insight they provide in understanding Cadence’s story.Don’t be deceived by the slight appearance of this book. We Were Liars punches well above its weight.
Sue McPherson, Ferny Grove State High School QLD
We Were Liars by American author E. Lockhart is one of those rare novels that really is almost “unputdownable”. It references some of the ideas of King Lear, with its foolish patriarch who plays off his unpleasant trio of daughters against each other. For me, there was also a hint of the Kennedy family too, as the family in the novel, the Sinclairs, are beautiful, rich and privileged, and spend their summers holidaying in their summer homes on their “private island off the coast of Massachusetts”. But most important, this is a gripping novel about facing up to the consequences of one’s actions. Cadence, the central character and narrator, looks back fondly on previous summers spent on the island with her family and, in particular, with her cousins Mirren and Johnny and their friend, Gat. She returns to the island after spending the previous summer in Europe with her father in order to convalesce from an accident she can’t remember. Everything seems a little strange, however, as Cady struggles to recall the events of two summers ago that led to her amnesia.
It’s very hard to categorize this novel as it has so many elements to it. It’s a book about family, about friendship and coming of age, about privilege in relation to both class and race, and about first love. All of these ideas are underpinned by the suspense of Cady’s narrative and the feeling of foreboding that gradually builds as the story unfolds. Lockhart’s prose is at times quite poetic and the characters' dialogue believable. It seems strange to say that I enjoyed reading a novel that is as dark and sad as We Were Liars, but it’s not all bleak, there is a great deal of sunshine and fun in the summers Cady recalls. And ultimately, it’s also a poignant reminder of the love of family and the support they can provide us when we need it most. I would certainly recommend this for Year 10 level students, although it may be better suited to female readers.
Deborah Huismann, English Teacher, Melbourne Girls’ College VIC
Rarely have I found teenage fiction that grabs me, a 30-year-old male educator, and doesn’t let go. But Cadence and her mysterious search for the truth dug its hooks into the skin behind and forced me to turn each page at a furious pace. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart is a tale full of summers on the beach, family secrets and lemony twists of meaning that are in equal measures tart and sweet.Cadence, her cousins and newcomer Gat spend each summer with the freedom that comes with being teenagers on their own private island. To most of Lockhart’s audience, the Sinclair’s island with full staff is a fantasy that does not hinder our appreciation of the characters’ lives as Cadence is an immediately likeable, sympathetic and captivating protagonist. The narrative is a velvety raft of metaphor and barely-hidden tragedy. The Sinclair’s are a strong, proud family and no amount of pain causes them to lower their well-worn stiff upper lips.
As teen and young adult fiction, We Were Liars would suit any upper senior classroom, particularly in grades 10-12. It would feature well amongst any studies on first person narrative methods, authorial voice and style and teen studies. In fact, I am teaching a unit on concepts of teenagers and how they are viewed by the world and will be including this for a Stage 5 group to explore.
A particularly interesting area that the novel would also feature well is as a related text in the new HSC Area of Study Discovery unit. The opening conceit of family secrets and lost memories is a familiar trope that is both recognisable to many readers and subtly threaded through the vivid plot. I highly recommend educators to consider this text for their senior classrooms and their own personal enjoyment.
Luke Barnett, Stage 4 Co-ordinator & Secondary English Teacher, Norwest Christian College NSW
When you live part time on your own private island, it is easy to assume that the normal problems of teenage life don’t apply. Cadence Eastman knows differently. One summer, her life spins out of control and her attempt to establish some authority has tragic consequences.
E. Lockhart has created four vivid characters in Cady, Johnny, Mirren and Gat and set them in the isolation of an island run by a despotic patriarch and his three feuding daughters. The similarity to King Lear is striking and, as the patriarch succumbs to old age and dementia, his daughters struggle to be first in his affections to stake their claim in the Sinclair fortune.
Imagine if Cordelia, Regan and Goneril had children watching as their families are torn apart and their mothers urge them to declare their love for the increasingly erratic grandfather. What solution might they invent? The blurb reads “if anyone asks how it ends, just lie”. Good advice. In a novel that delivers twists and unexpected turns, the ending is a total surprise. A good novel to mirror King Lear, We Were Liars could be used to spark discussion about the major themes of Shakespeare’s play. It asks how much the preceding generation should be allowed to control the next but in a modern setting and in a modern world. It shows the debilitating effect of waiting to inherit, of three families circling, held by expectations. They are divorced from reality, taught they are special but living on reduced incomes, afraid to do anything that might cut them off from inheriting. They twist their lives and those of their children to ensure their right to be Harris Sinclair’s daughters and therefore worthy to inherit. They watch and react to his smallest whim and when it becomes too much for the three eldest children and their friend, the solution is as outlandish as the family.Easy to read but suspenseful right to the end.
Paula Nordin, Teacher Librarian, Heatley Secondary College QLD
This novel is set in the USA and most of the complication takes place on Beechwood Island off the coast of Massachusetts. On this island, four families meet each northern summer to enjoy the opulence that has been handed down through the Sinclair family and its wealth for decades.The main character is Cady and she relates the story of her life, focusing on the summer break that she experiences each year. This is contrasted to her routine years as a student at high school.Close teen friends Mirren, Johnny and Gat have called themselves ‘the Liars’ in reference to their actions by word and deed each summer.
The story explores teen emotions, anger, egocentricity and Cady experiences the wonderful emotions that first love can bring to young people. Gat, who is a regular to the summer vacations, is of ethnic background and has woven himself into the family due to circumstances the novel can explain. Nevertheless, Cady enjoys his closeness, his empathy and the challenges he brings each summer to the island.
Cady suffers a major trauma in her 15th summer and, for the following two summers, she struggles to find out what her trauma actually entailed. Her family were sworn to keep the memory of this terrible life event from Cady as they were informed the terrible memory may set her mental recovery back even further. As with most memory lapses, snippets of the accident filter slowly into her memory. This has some intriguing effects on Cady’s outlook on life and the people whom she shares her life with.
The power of the adults around her is also explored. Her grandfather possess a huge amount of ‘old’ money. This financial chest of wealth has been built up in the Sinclair family for tens of years. However, the next generation of Sinclair’s bicker and argue over inheritance and estate management as Grandad slowly approaches the end of his life. In particular, Cady’s mother is caught up in this situation which affects the Liars’ activity and life on the island at summer time.The destruction of one of the four majestic homes on the island by an enormous fire results from this interfamily sniping and bickering. The after effects are to impact on Cady in a variety of ways and how she handles the situation as a 17-year-old is intense.A powerful twist at the end of the novel brings the narrative to a climax that was unexpected to this reader.
Trevor Dangerfield, Elisabeth Murdoch College VIC
While we tell our students not to judge a book by its cover (why do we tell our students that in today’s advertising world?) I certainly judge books by their cover, especially when deciding whether to issue a novel as a class set. The cover of We Were Liars, is gripping for its target audience, the title engages reluctant readers and the blurb is succinct and impacting. Walking into my Year 10 English class and handing out a class set of this novel, I know it would be well received. Opening the front cover, the reader is greeted with a list of praise for the novel.The map and family tree, as you progress into the novel, help set the scene and introduce the characters. An island off the Massachusetts, USA coast, Beechwood Island adds to the plot and intrigue of who is lying.
Told in first person, the main character Cadence Eastman tells a riveting tale of her summers between age 15 and 18. When a family tragedy happens and Cadence loses her memory, she must piece together her previous summers spent with family on their private island with their family secrets. This female narrator wouldn’t dissuade males from engaging with this novel.It is haunting, gripping and ‘unputdownable’. While this novel is for teens and young adults, I found it engrossing and certainly didn’t expect its ending. This is a very clever mystery and could be studied for the construction of the storyline (particularly writing groups), or studied for its character development, etc. However, this novel is really valuable for its thematic discussion.
There are numerous themes that can be explored with students in this novel, (family, relationships, teen love), however, the most pertinent is that our actions have consequences. I don’t want to give away the tragedy or the consequences that Cadence must face for Year 10 students, discussing their actions and the implications of their actions is certainly accessible with We Were Liars.
Jodie Webber, Hurlstone Agricultural High School NSW