E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars begins ominously: “Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair family. No one is a criminal. No one is an addict. No one is a failure.” The Sinclairs are attractive, wealthy, and messed up. Seventeen-year-old Cadence Sinclair Eastman, the eldest grandchild of Tipper and Harris Sinclair, is giving away her belongings, one by one, except for her well-used library card. When she was 15, something terrible happened to her—and to her family—but she can’t remember it, and no one will tell her the truth.
Sadly, someone on the Internet under the guise of being a “book reviewer” told me what happened to Cadence (without a “spoiler alert”). Already knowing the twist—and feeling rather uncomfortable about it—I wouldn’t have read this novel had it not been the latest selection for Katie’s Fellowship of the Worms.* I decided to join in the read-along to assess how well Lockhart pulled off such a bold twist in the 200-odd pages between the terse “Welcome” and the tragic “Truth.”
It’s uncomfortable to see the deteriorating Sinclair family through the eyes of its emotionally wounded heir. Cadence’s sentences are short and full of pain and anger. It’s certainly an interesting read, but one that’s best for readers who won’t concentrate too carefully on the plot. Cadence’s “accident” just doesn’t add up. Would those kinds of physical injuries heal so quickly? Why wasn’t there a forensic exam? Where were the police? If the “accident” had happened as described, Harris Sinclair, Penny, and her sisters would know much more about what actually happened to Cadence, her cousins, and their friend than they do. The inadequate legal response to a catastrophic, potentially criminal incident reminds me of the absurdly half-hearted criminal investigation in Jennifer Miller’s The Year of the Gadfly, another young adult novel about privileged New Englanders.
Adding to its flaws: Lockhart’s plot could have been solved instantly if only Cadence had googled herself, which is surely among the first steps these days in any journey of self-discovery.
Still, I appreciated aspects of this novel, particularly its references to classic literature. Lockhart’s We Were Liars is most directly an homage to Shakespeare’s King Lear, a tragedy I remember only vaguely, but it also has strong parallels to Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, which I re-read last January. The love of Cadence’s life, Gatwick Matthew Patil, is a modern version of Heathcliff, at least to Harris Sinclair. I nodded my head vigorously when Gat informs Cadence that Emily Brontë’s only novel is not a romance, as she has been led to believe, because “those people are awful to each other.”
On this blog, in An Unexpected Reaction to Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, I referred to the classic as “a brutal story about hateful people,” one that was about “obsessive infatuation,” not love, prompting a healthy debate in the comments.** I am glad to have Gat on my side — he’s the only character I actually liked.
*Have you read We Were Liars? If so, check out Katie’s blog, Words for Worms, to join in the discussion!
**My other two Wuthering Heights posts are: (1) Trying to Keep An Open Mind About Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights; and (2) Heathcliff: A Man or A Devil?