A Very Literary Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

June 13, 2014 / 10 Comments / Review

We Were Liars
Author: E. Lockhart (website | twitter)
Publisher: Delacorte Press (Random House of Canada)
Source: Finished copy from BEA14
Format: Hardcover, 227 pages
Publication date: May 6, 2014
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. 

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.
Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.


This review will be short. Because I really cannot give anything away about this book, and all I can do is compel you to read We Were Liars now. And then read it again, because to truly appreciate what E. Lockhart has done, you really have to read several parts twice.

Firstly, I am incredibly grateful that the only things I knew about the book going in were that a) I love E. Lockhart’s work b) most bloggers I know loved We Were Liars c) it’s a contemporary sort-of mystery about a rich girl on an island.

Really, that’s all you need to know. The rest you’ll discover in a careful unfolding of details that is so intricate and precise that you’ll be on the edge of your seat. This is a book where minutiae does the work of drawing you in. The plot stands way back and lets the writing do all of the work. The characters are deep wells, asking you to mine them for more information on what they want and who they care about.

The book is structured in episodes, flipping back and forth, turning your attention here, then there. It’s a jumble of moments, sometimes jarring, always bold and tightly wound. The writing is reminiscent of Hemingway with
its short, declarative sentences that always, always have subtext. This is really a book where form follows function.

More than any other YA I’ve read this year, Lockhart wisely and subtly uses literary devices such as repetition, foils, and parallelism to create a starkly beautiful depiction of the ties and breaks in family, first love, and secrets. This is one of those YAs that people will use as an example of the blurring of young adult and adult fiction.

Lockhart is really pushing YA as a genre here – writing smart, subversive, and radically original texts that challenge readers. This is a deeply impactful novel, dealing with very flawed people in very flawed circumstances. I’m thinking of it now, and I know I’ll be thinking about it for a long time.


We Were Liars map (from Tumblr)

Maps and Source Material: The beginning of the novel has a map and family tree – it’s not helpful in keeping track of things, but the map is also an illustration. I love when a novel gives you “source material” that you can mine for clues about the story!

The Final Word:

I met E. Lockhart at BEA and got to tell her how much I loved her work with Foucault in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks while she signed this book for me. This one is better. I really wish I’d read it sooner because I’m floored. I would love to talk to Lockhart about her thought process in creating this book; it truly is one of the most creative books I’ve read in YA. I hope teachers pick this one up to use in classrooms. I hope teens learn from it, while they feel EVERYTHING in this very emotional, very finely-wrought tale.

Recommended for: everyone, but especially anyone in your life who thinks YA isn’t complex.

Have you read WE WERE LIARS? Are you full of feels like I am? Have you read any of E. Lockhart’s other wonderful books, like The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks? Are you into literary fiction or suspense books? How do you feel about maps in books? Let me know in the comments!

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10 responses to “A Very Literary Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

  1. absolutely LOVE your last comment: "Recommended for …. especially anyone in your life who thinks YA isn't complex." Yes!! I wish I could actually get some of the folks who razz me for reading almost exclusively YA to read this ~ or anything by A.S. King, Andrew Smith, Courtney Summers, and *so many* other great YA authors who write amazing, complex, deep, edifying (I could go on and on…) books!

    I ordered this book on the day it was released, but I haven't had a chance to read it yet. Now my son is out of school, and though I desperately want to read this, I'm concerned I won't be able to follow it closely enough and/or I'll be compelled to ignore him for a fast and furious 48 hours or however long it takes me to read it!!! (He's only 6, which means I'm occupied with him all day, every day :)) On the other hand, I'm not sure I can put it off for another 4 whole weeks until he goes back to school!!

    Anyway, thanks for the great review; I enjoyed it! Oh, and I, too, am a sucker for maps, family trees, timelines, and any other "extras" an author puts in 🙂

  2. Oh wow! Great review!!!! Everyone seems to love this book and I sort of feel ashamed that I have not read it yet D: "Recommended for people who thinks YA isn't complex" that line sold me. This also seems like a book I'd reread – and I've only reread 3 books so far in my life 😉

  3. We Were Liars was not my cup of tea. I was intrigued at first but then I saw the story following similar premises, things I've seen before. Rich girl gets into accident and has issues afterwards. I thought the explanation in the end was kind of ridiculous. I loved the writing though. The characters were well written, I loved their depth. Lovely review! It's true, there's not much you can say about this but "go read it and see if you like it!"

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