We Were Liars Summary

E. Lockhart

We Were Liars

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We Were Liars Summary

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Written over 15 drafts, Emily Jenkins (better known by her pen name, E. Lockhart) published We Were Liars to great commercial and critical success in 2014. Her novel The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks was a finalist for The National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2008.

Her style has been described as sparse and direct; her plots routinely receive critical praise.

She cites Raymond Chandler and P.G. Wodehouse as major influences. Lockhart’s themes in We Were Liars and previous books, includes social exclusion, memory loss (amnesia in particular in We Were Liars), oppressive family rules, and social rules that divide romantic lovers.

Lockhart put her PhD in English literature to use in We Were Liars. The novel, targeting teenage readers, transposes the plot of King Lear onto the story of a wealthy family in New England; it also relays a love story between two fifteen-year-olds inspired in part by Wuthering Heights.

A wealthy family, the Sinclairs spend their summers on the private island Beechwood, near Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. A mysterious traumatic event happens when Cadence Sinclair is fifteen, and much of the book details her friends and family encouraging her to remember, two years later, exactly what happened.

The book is told in first person through Cadence’s perspective. Like King Lear and other traditional plays, it has five acts: Welcome; Vermont; Summer Seventeen; Look, a Fire; and Truth.

In Burlington, Vermont, Cadence spends her free time reading and lounging around with her multiple golden retrievers.

Her wealthy grandfather (called Granddad) owns an island near Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts and invites his three daughters and their children to visit over the summer. The island has four houses: one for the grandparents and one for each of the three daughters.

While there is a large family on the island, Cadence is closer to her cousins, Johnny and Mirren, who are around her age. Johnny’s friend, Gat Patil, has been coming to the island since he was eight. Over the years, Cadence has fallen in love with Gat. Cadence’s privileged life encourages her to be self-centered. Gat continually questions her about her surroundings, pointing out the fact she doesn’t know the names of the only non-white people on the island (Ginny and Paulo). Cadence’s mother, like her grandfather, is a functioning alcoholic. Cadence often tells truths about her family through fairy tales; a more direct way of storytelling would be too much for her to bear.

Because of the group’s misdeed, which is not revealed until much later in the book, they have earned the name ‘The Liars’ within the family.

Leading up to “Summer Fifteen,” Cadence is excited to be around Gat because the two of them had grown close the previous summer. But she finds, to her grave disappointment, that Gat is interested in another girl. Summer Fifteen is also terrible because her grandmother has died and her parents divorced. The last thing she remembers about that summer is waking up half-naked in a small ravine. When she emails The Liars to ask what happened, none of them respond.

Since Summer Fifteen, Cadence has developed a dependency on Percocet to stave of chronic migraines.Without explanation, her parents make Cadence spend “Summer Sixteen” in Europe, though her mother allows her to spend a month back at Beechwood, the family’s house on the island.

Before she lands, Cadence is warned by one of her cousins to stay away from the Cuddledown house on the island; he claims it is haunted. She vaguely remembers something bad happening the previous summer that involved fire.

Walking by her grandfather’s house, Clairmont, Cadence sees that the mansion has been completely rebuilt. It is now sleek, modern, and impersonal. Seeing the house helps Cadence recall that her grandfather caught her and Gat kissing and threatened to keep her inheritance from her if she continued to see him. The same thing happened to one of Cadence’s aunts with Gat’s uncle Ed.

In “Summer Seventeen,” Cadence remembers more of what happened two years ago. She and The Liars lived with Aunt Bess in her house Cuddledown. Aunt Bess moved to another mansion, New Clairmont, to care for her aging father. No one explains to Cadence why that particular mansion has been completely rebuilt.

With the truth acknowledged, Cadence goes to Cuddledown to make peace with The Liars. They thank her for reconciling the truth. The Liars were ghosts formed from Cadence’s guilt, and because of that guilt, they could not move onto the next stage of life.

Cadence walks with them toward the ocean; they wade into the water and disappear. When Cadence goes back to Clairmont, she vows to be a better person, as her love for Gat would have wanted.