14 January 2014

Book Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart


The publishing world is making much ado about E. Lockhart's new novel, We Were Liars, including asking reviewers (especially early reviewers) to be secret keepers for the novel. I'm afraid that almost from the start, it didn't do much for me. I won't say that I found the book a yawnfest--I did read it relatively straight through in one sitting--but it drastically disappointed me. I will, however, keep most of this book's secrets so as not to spoil much of it for anybody who happens upon this review. (Feel free to contact me via Goodreads, email, or other means if you would like real spoilers, though.)

Here's the set up: contemporary setting, privileged family, private island, summer retreats, extreme wealth, an abhorrence of scandal, a manipulative patriarch. Four teenagers -- two siblings, their cousin, one friend -- spend their summers together on a private island. Naturally this Kennedy-like clan presents a different face to the public than they do among themselves. Our narrator is the cousin who is in love with the friend, who is completely inappropriate for her: wrong tax bracket, wrong background, wrong family, wrong color. But then something really goes wrong.  So wrong that our narrator now has amnesia. What could it possibly have been?

If I had had lower expectations of this book, no doubt I would have enjoyed it more, but it ticked quite a few of my readerly pet peeves:
1. A first person narrator, who tells more than half of the story in present tense.
2. An unreliable narrator. This is not a spoiler.  Read the title again. Also, the narrator has amnesia.
3. The narrator has amnesia.
4. In the last 30 pages or so, the narrator's recovered memories necessitate a negation of approximately 80% of the "facts" that the reader has taken at face value for the previous 180 pages. 
If these things don't bother you, or at least if they don't bother you the way they bother me, then you'll probably enjoy this book. I would have liked it more had it not been hyped to me from various sources. I've seen the same tropes done before, and done better, and from what I knew of this author, I frankly expected more.

Beyond my personal peeves, I thought that the sibling and cousin relationships were particularly ill-drawn and I had trouble suspending my disbelief that these kids are supposed to have spent their entire summers together on their family's private island, year in and year out, and yet have bizarrely stilted dialogue and interactions.  Those parts just didn't jibe at all. I will concede, however, that the parent-child relationships and the adult relationships rang quite true.

The Big Reveal at the end is tragic, to be sure, but only somewhat of a stunner.  If you read enough novels, or even any novels, with a teenaged amnesiac narrator trying to remember her past, then it won't have completely out of left field for you. The actual execution of the teens' Big Plan and its subsequent demise, however, is so stupefyingly, mind-numbingly, improbable that I actually almost laughed. These are smart kids who have attended the best schools that money can buy and earned good grades.  You can't possibly tell me that they know so little about physics, chemistry, and the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water.
I've got three letters for you: W. T. F.
I won't say more, as beyond there spoilers lie. But what about you? Did you read this one and love it?  Want to tell me that I'm way off base on this and simply not able to appreciate the genius of this book? Or did you read it and feel the same way I did?

NB: This book will be published in May 2014 by Delacorte. I read an advance reading copy that was provided by the publisher. 

11 comments:

  1. Bizarrely (?) I've never heard of this one, but am totally disinterested. Your comments have me thinking I'd feel the same way. I am vaguely interested in the 'big secret' -- only because I do love spoilers.

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    1. I think in the next couple of months you'll really start to hear about this one. E Lockhart is an important YA writer and by that time the publicity engines will be revving. I think right now, though, that the buzz is largely just within the industry.

      If you really do want to know the spoilers I'm happy to share them in a non-public manner.

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  2. You had me chuckling at "This is not a spoiler. Read the title again."

    I have to say I'm not sure I would pick this one up to begin with. There are so many wealthy families with secrets books out there. They have to be really good or really unique to get my attention.

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    1. Thanks for appreciating my humor.

      Well, this one definitely has a twist, I'll say that for it. Wait a couple of months for the publicity machine to really get going and you may decide this is the book for you.

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  3. Is this a YA or an adult novel, E? Either way, I suppose I'll be steering toward something else. Thanks for the heads-up, as I appreciate your candor!

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    1. YA, but the publisher really wants to push this as a crossover.

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  4. Okay, I don't *think* I have a blogger account, but maybe you can contact me through google. I am desperately trying to find spoilers on this book, because I DID read the book, I know the twist/ending, etc., but I feel like I missed critical ...elements along the way. I really don't want to re-read it if I don't have to.

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    1. Kristy, I just clicked on your name but there was no way to message or email you that way. If you leave me your email in a comment, I'll contact you to see what questions you might have. I suspect that posting your questions here would be a little spoilerish.

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    2. You can also find me at Goodreads under the name Emily Crowe, if you prefer not to publish your email publicly.

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    3. Sent you a message through Goodreads. Thanks!

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  5. Okay, so I would like to read this book. But I'm the type of person who needs to know what happens before it happens. Is there anyway you could message me and tell me what happens please?
    Thank you

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Please, sir, may I have some more? (Comments, that is!)