9 December, 2022

LitStack Rec: Anna May Wong & We Were Liars

We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart

Take a privileged family, who summers on a private island across the water from Martha’s Vineyard.  Add in a bunch of blond grandchildren and one brown skinned friend; the four eldest about the same age:  Cady (the narrator of the story), Johnny, Mirren, Gat.  Make these four close, starting at the summer eight – the year that Gat comes to the island for the first time – and you have the makings of a young adult novel that is worthy reading at any age.

This is also when the four start to get into one kind of mischief or another; when they become known as The Liars.  By summer fourteen, Cady and Gat had fallen for each other, even though they didn’t know enough to call it love.  But then that summer ends, and it is so hard to keep in touch away from the island.

Summer fifteen starts out poorly for Cady.  (“Dad announced he was leaving and departed two days later.  He told my mother he wasn’t a Sinclair, and couldn’t try to be one, any longer.  He couldn’t smile, couldn’t lie, couldn’t be part of that beautiful family in those beautiful houses.”) Things don’t go all that smoothly on the island, either.  Matriarch Granny Tipper is gone, having passed on some months earlier, and her absence is difficult.  Then Gat admits he has a girlfriend back on the mainland.

And then, there’s “the accident” – the accident that happens to Cady, the accident no one talks about.  For some reason she went swimming alone late one night off a rocky beach, and was found washed up on the shore the next morning.  It was assumed that in the darkness she must have hit her head on the rocks; there was no other explanation for her loss of memory, for the hypothermia, for the mysterious head injury.

And there is no other explanation for the excruciating pain in her skull that surfaces later, along with vomiting and weight loss, migraines supposedly caused by traumatic brain injury. Cady’s father returns and insists on taking her to Europe for the summer; she hates the idea of the Liars spending summer sixteen without her, but turns out she doesn’t have a choice.  It hurts that Gat never showed up at the hospital after the accident, and that Mirren doesn’t answer her emails.  But Cady knows that life on the island has little to do with what happens on the outside.

Summer seventeen.  The Liars welcome Cady back, but they seem different, a bit more aloof… a year older.  They avoid talking about the accident – everyone has been told that Cady must recapture any memories on her own to ensure the highest degree of healing, and they adhere stridently to that caution.  And before too long, the Liars once again are inseparable, even if it does sometimes feel like they are starting over.

That is, until Cady’s memories start coming back.

We Were Liars is a suspenseful, surprising, lyrical story of one young girl’s struggle to make sense of a life turned upside down, when the realization that what appears on the surface may simply mask a darkness underneath.  Written in the sparse yet beautiful language of youth, the pages fly by.  Definitely, a reading experience that should not be missed.

—Sharon Browning


  • Lauren Alwan

    Lauren Alwan’s fiction has appeared in the O. Henry Prize Stories, the Southern Review, the Alaska Quarterly Review, StoryQuarterly, in the Bellevue Literary Review. She is the recipient of a First Pages Prize, the Goldenberg Prize for Fiction, and.a citation of Notable in Best American Essays. Her essays have appeared in ZYZZYVA, Catapult, World Literature Today, The Rumpus, The Millions, Writer's Digest, and others. She is a prose editor at the museum of americana, an online literary review. Follow her on Twitter at @lauren_alwan and learn more at www.laurenalwan.com