Book review and synopsis for We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, a mystery involving a four teenagers set on a private island.
In We Were Liars, Cadence Sinclair is the eldest granddaughter in the wealthy and attractive Sinclair family. All athletic and blond, the Sinclairs live off of Grandfather Harris's fortune and spend their summers vacationing on his private island.
Cadence and her friends are nicknamed the Liars and are a tightly-knit group until one summer when Cadence ends up in a serious accident. As Cadence pieces together the circumstances of her accident, she will discover the truth about herself and her family.
(The Detailed Plot Summary is also available, below)
Detailed Plot SummarySection-by-Section SummarySee the Section-by-Section Summary of We Were LiarsQuick Plot Summary
One paragraph version: Cadence Sinclair comes from a family of wealthy and beautiful people. They spend their summers on their private island. The summer she is 15, she has an accident that leaves her with a brain injury, with migraines and gaps in her memory. Two years later, she returns to the private island determined to figure out what happened that summer. She slowly recalls her bits pieces of fights between her mother and aunts over inheritances and assets, fueled by her grandfather pitting them against one another. Finally, in the end, Cadence remembers that she and the other teenage grandchildren had decided to burn down their grandfather's house when it was empty in anger over being dragged into their parents' fights over money. However, it went poorly and the other teens died in the fire. The migraines and memory loss were a result of her guilt and inability to face the truth.
In Part I, the book introduces Cadence Sinclair, who is the eldest granddaughter in the wealthy and beautiful Sinclair family. Everyone in the Sinclair family is blond and athletic, and their patriarch is Cadence's grandfather Harris, who is the one who made the family fortune that they all live off of.
The Sinclair family spends each summer on Beechwood Island, a small private island where Harris has built four summer homes, one for him and his wife Tipper and other three for each of their three daughters (Penny, Bess and Cassie).
There are two other grandchildren who are Cadence's age -- Johnny and Mirren. Johnny's mother also dates an man named Ed, whose nephew Gat Patil is their age as well. Together, these four (Cadence, Johnny, Mirren and Gat) hang out together during the summer and have been nicknamed the Liars by the family.
The summer the Liars are all 14 ("summer 14"), Cadence and Gat starts developing feelings for each other. The following year, Tipper passes away and Cadence's parents divorce. When Cadence returns to the island the next summer ("summer 15"), Gat has a girlfriend back home. Still, Cadence and Gat continue to flirt and occasionally kiss.
That summer, Cadence has a swimming accident resulting an un-diagnosable brain injury, which causes her to have gaps in her memory and gives her migraines afterwards. She stops hearing from Gat. The following year, she flunks her classes, dyes her hair black, loses her friends and drops all her school activities. The next summer, summer 16, Cadence goes to Europe with her father, and she's hurt that she doesn't hear from the other Liars at all.
In Part II, that year, Cadence embarks on a project of giving away all her stuff, since she wants to be less materialistic. Cadence also insists on going back to Beechwood for summer 17, and her mother arranges for her to go to the island for four weeks.
In Part III, Cadence arrives at Beechwood determined to figure out what happened during summer 15. However, everyone says that the doctors want her to recall it on her own. As she recalls bits and pieces, she remembers her mother and her siblings fighting over their inheritances and Granddad's assets, though they seem to be getting along well in present day. Cadence also notices how her Granddad's house has now been remodeled and is missing all of Tipper's old things.
In Part IV, Cadence finally recalls that there was a fire during summer 15. The Liars had set it on purpose. During summer 15, without Tipper to keep them at bay, their mothers' fighting had gotten much worse, spurred on by Granddad them against each other in order to regain his sense of control. In turn, their mothers started demanding that the kids get involved in their fight as well. Granddad had also become hostile toward Gat once he saw that Gat and Cadence were involved.
The Liars had gotten the idea to burn down Granddad's house when everyone was gone in order to destroy what they viewed as a "symbol" of everything that was wrong in their family (this is why all Tipper's things are gone now). Upon remembering all this, Cadence initially feels triumphant, thinking that their plan worked since their mothers aren't fighting anymore. H
In Part V, Cadence finally remembers the last bit, that not only did Granddad's dogs died in the fire, so did the rest of the Liars. Johnny, Mirren and Gat weren't able to get out of the house in time after Cadence lit the first match. Instead, only Cadence was able to get out. The book ends with Cadence finally facing her guilt and knowing that she will endure.
For more detail, see the full Section-by-Section Summary.
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I’m a teacher and was required to read this book with seniors. The book was a good story about cousins growing up on an island during the Summer months. .I like the references to “King Lear,” and that there was a story in a story being told. Cadence falls in love with Gat and the parents fight over their father’s estate. I was hoping more would develop, for example, the cousins find a buried treasure. The students were confused about the mixed-up sequence of the story with the twist at the end, they didn’t understand that Cadence had psychosis. They thought at least one cousin would tell Cadence about her accident. It was a good story for a Summer read, but I think more of my students would relate better to a story like, “The Outsiders,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” or “Speak.”