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Book Review: We Were Liars

 

Somehow this book passed me by last year when it was first published. Luckily for me, it cropped up on my MA reading list. Despite being billed as a Young Adult novel, I was hooked very early on by the interesting narrative style. The book, at times, comes across as fragmented and reflects the disjointed unveiling of the story. You are led into the world of the Sinclair family in what promises to be a haunting tale that will stay with you for a long time after reading it.

The novel begins with narrator, Cadence, telling the reader that in the Sinclair family: “No one is a criminal./ No one is an addict./ No one is a failure.” And, to some extent, this is the essence of the story. Because of the desperate need to appear perfect, the protagonist represses all but the most superficial of feelings. When dealing with the first flushes of love; the feelings of abandonment when her father leaves and the loss of her grandmother, she is made to smile widely and not let her feelings show. Cadence learns the hard way what matters in life and what the true meaning of family really is.

It becomes apparent early in the novel that not all is well with the Sinclairs. Cadence tells the reader about how she used to be pretty and blond but now she suffers from migraines and is sickly looking and weak. She also eludes to an ‘accident’ which we quickly learn is a pivotal catalyst for the change in both Cadence and life on the island. However, it isn’t until the final pages that the truth of the ‘accident’ is fully revealed.
The family spend their summers on a private island. Although they are wealthy, Cadence’s mum and the ‘aunties’ are presented as greedy and unhappy. The patriarch of the family, Cadence’s grandfather, manipulates his children with promises of more family money and bigger houses. The ‘liars’: Cadence, Johnny, Mirren and Gat find the bickering over money infuriating and spend their time on the island’s small beach. Gat is a family friend and is reluctantly allowed to spend his summers with the family. He becomes Cadence’s love interest, much to the annoyance of the grandfather. Gat is the opposite of the Sinclair family. They are white, fair and rich. He, on the other hand, is Indian and comes from a working class background. Despite being tolerated by the family, Gat is acutely aware that he doesn’t belong and this creates conflict within the story.

After the accident, Cadence is kept away from the island and things in the Sinclair family seem to take a sinister turn. Cadence’s father suddenly reappears and takes her to Europe for the summer; none of the other ‘liars’ reply to any of her attempts at communication and people stop talking when she appears in the room. There is clearly more to the accident than Cadence banging her head in the sea and the reader is led to wonder what happened to change everything.

As well as the mystery of the ‘accident’ running throughout, the novel deals with many other themes. By means of the close portrayal of the well-to-do Sinclair family, the author explores issues such as: racism; inequality; class; power; morality and appearance verses reality.

Because of the first person narration, the twist at the end is easily concealed as the protagonist herself has blocked out the memory of events. When the end does come and the secrets are revealed, I was breathless and in tears. This is quite a feat for a Young Adult book. I won’t give too much away but it is certainly an ending worth waiting for. I would highly recommend for both teenagers and adults alike.

 Written by Lucy Brighton

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