E. Lockhart’s Family of Liars is an exceptional follow up to We Were Liars. Put this on your must-read list!
I consider We Were Liars as one of the best books I’ve read in the last decade, with probably the most powerful twist ending ever. So I’m not sure why it took me so long to read Family of Liars. Perhaps I thought there was no way it could compare to the first book, even though it’s a prequel. But I’m so glad I finally decided to pick it up.
Family of Liars takes place 27 years prior to We Were Liars, and it’s a ghost story. Carrie, the oldest sister (she’s Cadie’s aunt and Johnny’s mother in the first novel) tells the story of a consequential summer spent on their private island in the mid-eighties. It’s not giving away much to say that Carrie’s youngest sister, Rosemary, had drowned the summer before, and now she benevolently haunts Carrie. Carrie isn’t sure why Rosemary lingers on, or what she needs or how she can help her, but she’s so glad to see her that she doesn’t question it too hard. Meanwhile, Carrie’s cousin Yardley comes to the island with her boyfriend and his two best friends, one of whom is named Pheff. Pheff is charming yet reckless, and when he expresses an interest in Carrie, she can’t resist.
Even though she’s the oldest, Carrie is less experienced than her middle sister Penny, and Carrie’s insecurities cloud her judgment. Also, Carrie is still recovering from an extremely painful, elective jaw surgery that her father insisted she have to fix her “weak chin.” The recovery was long and Carrie got an awful infection and now she’s addicted to painkillers, and her substance abuse only gets worse as the summer goes on.
Needless to say, tragedy is inevitable.
And yet, there’s something so romantic and wonderful about the setting, with its 80s nostalgia, and the old money private island lifestyle, with beach bonfires, lemon hunt parties, boat rides into town, and rising early to watch the sunrise.
E. Lockhart is an amazing writer, filling the pages with poetic details that are vividly lyrical. And if the twist toward the end of the novel isn’t quite as seismic as the one in We Were Liars, I feel that’s an unfair comparison to make in the first place. There was really no way she could live up to that, but other aspects of the story are even more riveting than the first. Plus, I loved how she used fairytales in both novels to express the theme and create a fascinating character arc.
Family of Liars is considered YA fiction, but I don’t know that I’d label it as such. And that’s not because I think the YA label in any way diminishes the quality of a novel. It’s just that Carrie is telling the story as an adult, with an adult’s wisdom and experience. She’s looking back at the mistakes she made as a teen, and has a perspective impossible for a young person to take. So while I definitely think this novel will appeal to teens, it’s equally appealing to adults as well.
Family of Liars is an excellent novel, and I strongly urge you to read it!