By Tom Baker / Japan News Staff WriterWe Were Liars
By E. Lockhart
Hot Key Books, 225pp
Once upon a time there were three rich sisters. They spent every summer on a private island owned by their even richer father, and their lives were filled with luxury.
Such a blissful existence would not make much of a story if they didn’t have a few secrets. Luckily for readers of E. Lockhart’s latest young-adult novel, “We Were Liars,” secrecy comes as naturally to the sisters as sipping cocktails prepared by the island’s anonymous staff.
When one of the three ladies is abandoned by her husband, they tacitly agree to never speak his name again. Too painful. When their own mother dies, she also fades out of their conversations. Too sad. And when the 15-year-old daughter of one of the sisters is found unconscious and half-dressed on the island’s beach, having apparently bashed her head on a rock during a solitary nighttime swim … well, let’s not talk about that, either. Much too uncomfortable.
Cadence Sinclair Eastman, who narrates the book, is the daughter in question. She wishes her family would break its silence about her accident. She doesn’t remember what happened, and the mystery weighs on her.
Cady, along with her same-age cousins Johnny and Mirren, has spent every summer of her life on the island. When they were 8 years old — a time they call “summer eight” — they were joined by a friend named Gat. As a nephew of the boyfriend of one of Cady’s aunts, Gat is not quite a member of the family. He’s not rich like them. And he’s not white like them. In summer fifteen, Cady falls in love with him.
In summer fifteen, Cady has the accident that leaves her with amnesia.
During summer sixteen, her family keeps her away from the island for the first time in her life. For her own good, apparently.
In summer seventeen, she’s back. No one will tell her how her accident happened, saying it’s better if she remembers on her own.
But Cady can keep secrets, too. When her mother hears her playing on the tennis court with her cousins, she takes it as a sign that Cady is recovering from her injuries and offers to practice hitting balls with her.
“She is delusional,” Cady tells the reader. “I am not taking tennis up again just because I played one single afternoon, and in no capacity do I ever want to hit with Mummy. She will wear a tennis skirt and praise me and caution me and hover over me until I’m unkind to her. ‘We’ll see,’ I say.”
Cady works toward the truth by writing allegorical tales comparing life on the island to stories like “Beauty and the Beast” and “King Lear.”
Her stories all begin with “Once upon a time,” but rarely do they make it to “happily every after.” When the true story behind her head injury is finally revealed — in a series of shocking twists — the lack of “happily” seems appropriate.
Once upon a time, something terrible happened to a rich family on a private island. They kept it secret for a reason.
Where to Read
Stay home. If you read this on the train, you may miss your stop. If you read it on a boat to a private island, you may want to turn around and go back.