“We Were Liars” by E. Lockhart (2014)

I tend to stay away from young adult fiction. I’m of the opinion that there is value in the art, but that the readership is purposefully meant to be of the younger persuasion: readers who are still learning skills that will eventually be put to use with works that will progressively challenge them as their readings become more complex. There is a reason the protagonists tend to be teenagers (or younger) themselves, in order for the target reader to be able to identify with the characters. I am no longer a teenager, and even back then I didn’t quite fit in – my favorite books never depicted my world… I wanted to escape it. I read, after several recommendations, Stephen Chbosky’s young adult novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I can see why it was successful, as it panders to the “weird” kids, those who don’t fit in. It’s essentially an anthem for the underdog who listens to alternative music and suffers through the monotonous and oppressive life embodied by one’s high school. A modern, less asocial and non-sociopathic Catcher in the Rye. The appeal is clear, but it’s also true that the writing isn’t perfect or very complex. It’s an appropriate book for the demographic it’s meant for, but it’s not worthy of a distinguished status beyond that.

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I honestly do not recall how I came across E. Lockhart’s book. I usually rely on a small list of sources when deciding what books to buy, so I must have read a favorable review of it last summer and only got around to reading it this week. Had I realized it was a young adult novel I wouldn’t have read it and would probably have been better off for it. The style of the book is confusing. Most of the book is prose, narrated in the first person by the story’s central character, Cadence. We know her name because intermittently throughout the novel she keeps reminding us of this: “My full name is Cadence Sinclair Eastman.” Yet, at some points in the narrative, for absolutely no reason (at least, none that I could discern) the style switches to verse, and then immediately back to regular prose. This devise gets aggravating and annoying rather quickly. A few times there are fairy tales peppered into the story which are meant to be symbolic and “deep”, yet honestly they fall quite flat. Is the storyline engaging? Not really. The protagonist suffers from amnesia (the literary trope of the lazy) and cannot recall a traumatic event that occurred two previous summers. She is a member of the wealthiest 1% and spends each summer on a private island off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard with her cousins who make up the titular group of “Liars”. The big reveal is cheap and gimmicky as an M. Night Shyamalan ending, and when you search your memory to check if it fits you are left scratching your head at all the problematic plot points you have to disregard in order to make it stick. I understand that this is meant to be read by teens, but this is insulting to their intelligence and abilities. The language and more mature themes contained prevent this book from being marketed to a younger demographic that may be more fitting for the otherwise content. It also appears that it was quite hard for Lockhart to find a voice to her teenagers that rang true. One minute they are worried about their crush liking them back and the next they are having philosophical conversations discussing patriarchy and reading A Passage to India for pleasure. Even though these kids are members of the privileged class it many times rang false. Suffice it to say, I didn’t really enjoy this book much and will probably leave young adult fiction to said young adults and stick to my grownup reads from now on.

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E. Lockhart
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