Last Updated on September 5, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 534
We Were Liars is a 2014 critically acclaimed contemporary Young Adult novel written by American author Emily Jenkins, who is known for often using her pen name, E. Lockhart. It gained positive reviews and even won several awards. It tells the story of an extremely rich teenage girl named Cady, who desperately tries to remember what happened during her fifteenth summer on her family’s private island.
The novel is written with a light, quirky, almost messy language—typical of a young girl’s behavior and struggle to remember and overcome a traumatic experience, as the narrator is Cadence herself. The chapters are short, and the plot flows similarly to a Shakespearean tragedy. The main protagonist is the narrator, Cadence Sinclair Eastman, a seventeen-year-old girl who comes from a wealthy family that is portrayed as the most perfect and flawless family in the area. Among other things, the Sinclairs own a private island named Beechwood that has four vacation homes for all the members of the family. The summer when Cadence is fifteen, she and her cousins (Mirren and Johnny), and Johnny’s friend, Gat (whom Cady falls in love with), go swimming one night, and after that, Cady can’t remember anything.
From that point on, the novel focuses on her amnesia, her daily struggles to remember the events that took place on that night, and the physical and psychological changes she went through after her accident. Her family won’t tell her anything; they explain how they want Cadence to remember on her own. However, in reality, they are afraid of losing the inheritance promised by the oldest Sinclair, Harris (Cady’s grandfather), who is the main antagonist of the story.
Two years after the accident, Cadence decides to go back to the summer house to finally figure out what happened. Finally, we learn that the “Liars” (Cadence, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat) burned down the house after the adults had a big fight over the inheritance, and out of the four of them, only Cadence survived. She realizes that all of her conversations she had with her closest friends and cousins over the past two years were actually just her imagination, and they were only there to help her get to the truth. This is the resolution of the story, and in the final pages, we see just how dysfunctional and complex the Sinclair family is under their perfect facade.
Similarly to most young adult novels, We Were Liars carries an important message. Through pages filled with lies, false values, and false personalities, and through the isolated and seemingly perfect lifestyle of the rich and the privileged, we witness a broken family’s path toward love and redemption and one girl’s fight to fit in and find her true self. Most importantly, however, we are taught to choose and respect the real merits of life and to value the truth above everything else.
The plot contains a shocking twist, one that readers are clued into when Cadence is: the Liars have been killed in the fire and Cadence is the only survivor. This technique shifts the way the novel is read after, and certainly impacts the previous perception of Cadence’s accident.