We Were Liars: The Book that Everyone on TikTok is Raving About


Alexandra Risi


A few weeks ago I picked out a book from my local Barnes and Noble titled We Were Liars. If you’re on the side of TikTok where book recommendations run rampant, you’ve probably heard a lot about this book. I had heard a multitude of positive reviews from my friends, and was told on countless occasions that the plot twist was going to leave me in utter shock. So I decided to read it, and it did not disappoint. 

This book by E. Lockheart was a lot deeper than I ever expected, and it covered some heavy topics such as guilt, self-love, and the pain of remembering. The plot of the book, the writer’s craft that makes this book so addicting, and the heavy symbolism that lies underneath the main themes of the text, are all individually interesting and make this book the fan-favorite that it is. Spoiler warning for anyone who has not read this book yet and is planning on it, since I will be revealing the “big twist” that gives this story its reputation and if it was as out-of-nowhere as everyone makes it out to be.

We Were Liars follows the story of a girl named Cadence Sinclair Eastman, or Cady, and the summers she spends on a small family-owned island in Massachusetts. She goes to Beechwood every year with her grandparents, her mother, her aunts, and her cousins. While in Beechwood, Cady spends the majority with her two cousins Johnny and Mirren, and her aunt’s boyfriend’s nephew, Gat. The group calls themselves the Liars, and are inseparable every summer. Cady and Gat fall in love with each other over these summers, but have trouble keeping in touch for the remainder of the year. One day in their fifteenth summer, Cady is involved in an accident that gives her a traumatic brain injury and selective amnesia. She is not allowed back onto the island until she is seventeen, and when she returns, no one will tell her what has happened, claiming it was her mother’s wish. Cady spends the rest of the book trying to understand why her family is acting so differently around her, why she has a need to give away every prized possession of hers, and why she is only remembering fragments of the tragic summer she experienced.

It’s important to mention that Beechwood is owned by Cady’s grandma Tipper and grandpa Harris, and when Tipper dies, Harris’ three daughters try to win his affections so that they will get the rights to the island when he passes. Cady begins to remember how in summer fifteen, her mother and aunts were always fighting and tried to use their children as pawns in their games to win Harris’ favor. The children were sick and tired of the corrupt nature of their family, so one, drunken night, they decided to light their grandfather’s house on fire while the family is off of the island. They figure if there is nothing left for the daughter’s to fight over, their family will be normal. At the end of Cady’s seventeenth summer with her cousins, she begins to remember in a heartbreaking chapter how the childrens’ plan had gone terribly wrong. There were a multitude of mistakes made while setting the fire, one of them being that Cady lit the house up before warning her cousins so that they would have time to leave. Johnny, Mirren, and Gat all burned inside of the house that night, and the combination of smoke and burns that Cady got from trying to rescue them caused her amnesia and migraines. This means that all throughout summer seventeen, Cady was hallucinating that her cousins were really there, and she was spending time with their ghosts. Once Cady realizes this, she apologizes to them, and they remind her that they love her despite what happened. With that said, Mirren, Johnny, and Gat tell her that it’s too draining for them to stay with her any longer, and they must leave her for good. They jump into the ocean and swim away, never to be seen again.

There’s a lot to unpack within this story, and I think one of the most important things to take note of is what happens when Cady remembers the accident. She is playing with Gat and two of her grandfather’s dogs, when suddenly she remembers that those dogs died in a fire and she traces the steps back to the fact that she lit the fire. While reliving her worst memory, she is left to lay on her grandfather’s lawn in grief, bearing the responsibility for killing her cousins. Although this is not directly stated, the author implies that Cady remembered the whole time, and she was just repressing the memory because it was too much trauma for her to handle. Her hallucinations were used as a way to give her closure, because the Liars let her know that it wasn’t her fault, and that they were all just foolish kids trying to destroy something much bigger than themselves. The memories also explain why she was giving away her items to people around her. She wasn’t trying to be a charitable person like she claimed, but she was trying to erase the part of herself that held the guilt. 

Once the truth is uncovered by Cady, the readers are flooded with an abundance of emotions, because they realize that her story is even more tragic than originally believed. Cady is finally allowing herself to grieve over the accident, which is showing her development and acceptance that is a result of spending one, last summer with her favorite people in the world. Being able to recognize that they still love her, even after her mistakes, changes something in Cady that allows her to move forward. It also shows readers the world of guilt that Cady is feeling, as she breaks down and recalls how her closest friends will never be able to live their lives because of a stupid mistake. A critique I had was that everything happened so quickly with the Liars’ fire. Yes, they were tired of their parents being selfish, but deciding to light a huge house fire in one night without considering the safety of others seems pretty unbelievable. There were other steps they could have taken to help the problems in their family, but they jumped to the quickest (and most dangerous) decision. Nevertheless, they were drunk with power, and naive enough to act on their impulses. In some, twisted way, they are able to bring their family together even though their plan failed. Their sacrifice is the real reason why their family grew together in grief. 

Now speaking about the plot twist, was it really that shocking to readers? In my opinion, there were a multitude of hints given that could help figure out that the liars were dead before Cady remembered. I figured it out somewhere in the middle of the book that Cady was having hallucinations, even though I wasn’t sure how the Liars died or if it was Cady’s fault. One of the biggest flags for me was when Cady was wandering the house at night, and saw her aunt Carrie looking for Johnny. The next morning, when Cady brought it up and her aunt replied that she didn’t know what she was talking about, I realized one of the side effects of Cady’s brain injury could be hallucinations. From there, I wondered what else she may be having hallucinations about, and quickly recognized that the parents of the Liars rarely mentioned them, and the Liars had refused to stay with their families that summer. Also, the fact that every time Cady asked her cousins about what happened they would end up leaving or getting sick told me that they had experienced something tragic, and were avoiding Cady’s questions so that she wouldn’t feel responsible. Gat even said that he shouldn’t be spending time with Cady, since he was “messing everything up”. Gat didn’t want to get even more attached to Cady, since he knew he would have to leave her at one point and break her heart. So although the twist was a good one, I think it was a bit predictable and Lockheart definitely foreshadowed it on multiple occasions. 

We Were Liars is an extremely unique book, from the way it is told to the shocking twist at the end. It’s messages are intertwined deeply into the actions and words of each Liar, and I could spend another ten pages speaking about one chapter alone. E. Lockheart finds a way to connect the readers to each character, and then rip the tether formed in less than five pages. As Cady repeats “Gat, my Gat” and recalls how he will never be able to fix the evil in the world, Mirren will never be able to explore the world, and Johnny will never be able to be the light for the world, we cry with her and feel every ounce of pain that she does. We realize that she may hold the blame, but she is still loved. And we recall each and every slight movement by a character that could have told us this was coming. It was an amazing book,despite the fact that the plot twist wasn’t as shocking as it was said to be. Each word builds the love or hate we have for a character and shows the power of language, all displayed in a 200-page book.