I read many things this summer, including both Anna Karenina and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. I was looking forward to reading books that were of literary ‘worth’ for my own pleasure, outside of the confines of university. However, the book that stood out for me wasn’t a classic novel or a profound political masterpiece, it was We Were Liars, a YA fiction novel by E. Lockhart.
The teenage protagonist, Cadence is at first glance a typical ‘broken’ female searching to be reunited with her lover, her memories, and a functioning family unit. To be clear, she has lost of all of these things but isn’t entirely sure why or how. What she does have is a witty and sarcastic style of prose: ‘I suffer migraines. I do not suffer fools.’ This stopped her being overly weepy in the style of Bella Swan and gave her a bit of much-needed sass.
Despite myself, I soon got pulled into Cadence’s intoxicating world. She is part of the prestigious St Clair family, a white, upper-class embodiment of the American Dream, and on the surface everything is perfect. However, obviously, nothing is perfect: neither her mother or her two aunts are with the father of their children, and the family is full of difficult tensions.
The text alludes very clearly to King Lear, as well as creating twisted fairy-tale fables to further spell out the roles assigned to each character (the Outsider, the Witch, the King). Everything seems very tied up, and the reader is left wondering with Cadence how she lost her memory and fell into depression. What exactly is the incident the family are trying to hide?
I’m not going to reveal what happens at the climax of the novel. But it was truly unexpected, and utterly devastating to read. Emotions I didn’t even know I’d developed for the characters spilled out everywhere, and it was a good thing I was alone rather than on a bus or a train.
“We are liars. We are beautiful and privileged. We are cracked and broken.”
On finishing We Were Liars, I flicked to the front and scanned it through again. On the second read, peculiarities in the text explained themselves: Lockhart cleverly set up the text for the dramatic reveal at the climax but did it in such an offhand way that most readers will miss the little clues and fall for it as thoroughly as I did.
We Were Liars was a fantastic novel, surpassing my expectations and teaching me to be less snobby about what I choose to read. There is absolutely no reason why a work of YA Fiction cannot move me as profoundly as a work of ‘literature’, and this novel is proof of that.