There was a lot of talk about We Were Liars a few months back (see popcultureboy’s review from earlier this year), and about the surprise ending. The buzz on the book was huge, and the tagline in the publicity for it said, “and if anybody asks you how it ends, just LIE.” This piqued my interest. And so I went into it cautiously, hoping that the “twist” didn’t detract from the storytelling. Thankfully, it didn’t.
We Were Liars is about a girl named Cady (short for Cadence), a member of an extremely wealthy, WASP-y, Boston family. Her grandparents own their own island off of the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, and over the years built four large summer homes for themselves and their three daughters (a nod to King Lear?). The entire family would spend the whole summer on the island — grandparents, daughters, grandchildren, and husbands (but those didn’t stick around for too long).
Cady and her cousins spend their first 14 summers on the island, along with “outsider” Gat, the nephew of her aunt’s boyfriend. They call themselves “the liars”, and over time, Cady and Gat fall in love. But everything changes when they arrive for their 15th summer on the island. Gat has a girlfriend back in New York, yet can’t seem to stay away from Cady, and Cady’s beloved grandmother has died. The aunts are fighting non-stop over any potential inheritance, and Cady’s grandfather manipulates them all with his massive fortune.
And at the end of that summer — the 15th summer — “something” happens. Cady has an accident and suffers a traumatic brain injury. She doesn’t remember much about that summer, and nothing at all about the night of the accident. And she stays away from the island for an entire summer. When she returns, for her 17th summer, she tries to piece together everything that she can’t remember. She talks to her aunts, her cousins, her grandfather, and the rest of the liars. They aren’t very willing to talk about that summer. But she gets bits and pieces, and her blank spots slowly start to return to her memory.
Yes, the ending surprised me. I kept thinking I knew exactly what was going to happen, and found myself wrong over and over again. But the story is much more than a M Night Shyamalan trick. The choice to use a somewhat unreliable narrator — a VERY dramatic teenager with amnesia — really worked for me. But I know that it didn’t work at all for many others. My book club read this in August, and most folks didn’t like Cady’s dramatic, over-the-top way of storytelling. I don’t think the twist would have been as successful without Cady’s drama and annoying hyperboles.