Unforgettable is the perfect word for this novel, John Green. We Were Liars is a book about friendship, love, loss, and identity. It’s about youth and coming to terms with the temporariness of everything, even love that lasts a lifetime.
Cadence, the protagonist of the story, is a Sinclair- a privileged family who vacations near Martha’s Vineyard and who pretends to never have any issues. Cadence spends every summer at the beach house with her two best friends/cousins Johnny and Mirren. Eventually, Johnny brings his friend Gat to the island, and Gat becomes an extension of the Sinclairs, attending every summer from then on. Lockhart does a phenomenal job of describing the magic of summer vacations and of tradition: Cadence and the others only feel themselves when a the beach, and spend the rest of their year waiting to come back to themselves. I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic for summer, to long for the condo my family used to spend summers at in Lake Erie. Give me summer and the magical sunsets full of wonder and hope for the evening to last an eternity.
Naturally, Cadence and Gat fall into a friendship that is more than friendship but which she at first refuses to call love. “Body wired with energy. Gat seemed spring-loaded. Like he was searching for something. He was contemplation and enthusiasm. Ambition and strong coffee. I could have looked at him forever.” Inevitably, Cadence falls in love with Gat: “One day I looked at Gat, lying in the hammock with a book, and he seemed, well, like he was my particular person.” “And in that one moment, with the sunlight from the window shining in on him, the apples on the kitchen counter, the smell of wood and ocean in the air, I did call it love. It was love, and it hit me so hard I leaned against the screen door that still stood between us, just to stay vertical. The universe was good because he was in it. I loved the hole in his jeans and the dirt on his bare feet and the scab on his elbow and the scar that laced through one eyebrow. Gat, my Gat.” Cadence realizes her love and struggles, the way we all struggle, with the questionable vulnerability we put ourselves in when we fall in love. She struggles the rest of that summer with the in-betweenness of her and Gat, of being in love but not wanting to show it too explicitly.
In the back of our minds looms the fact that Cadence is now injured- she tells the readers at the beginning that there was an accident and that nothing was the same afterwards. That she is trying to make sense of what happened. But first she gets moments of love and passion and life. “We sat on the tire swing at midnight, our arms and legs wrapped around each other, lips warm against night skin. In the mornings we’d sneak laughing down to the Clairmont basement, which was lined with wine bottles and encyclopedias. There we kissed and marveled at one another’s existence, feeling secret and lucky.” Falling in love in the summer- could there be anything more nostalgic, anything more packed with heavy emotion? I am so happy that Cadence got to experience this, that I got to experience it.
Amidst her tumultuous beginnings with Gat, the Sinclair daughters bicker, the Sinclair grandfather preaches his trapping ‘be like me’ attitude. Family drama is at the crux of the story, even when Cadence tries to deny it. It is exactly this that leads Cadence to danger and an heartbreak more unimaginable than originally guessed. After the year of the accident, which Cadence can’t remember, she takes a year off from the summer house (at her parent’s request). This year is full of questions: why didn’t Gat write her after the accident? Why won’t Mirren or Johnny reply to her emails? Why has everyone forgotten about her? Cadence feels a loneliness unlike any other along with a physical pain that makes her tremble.
The next summer, Cadence goes back to the beach house. The liars, as they call themselves, seem to not have issues between them, but inside, Cadence longs for them to explain why they abandoned her after the accident. Days go by in which her headaches put her in bed, unmovable. She begs for her mother and her liars to tell her what specifically happened the day of the accident, but everyone shies away, explaining that her mind needs to work it out on its own. Something isn’t adding up though, not to Cadence, and not to us either. Why won’t they just tell her? How could her friends, her Gat, be so cruel?
Conversations between Cadence and Gat reveal another issue working within the story: the possibility of Gat becoming a part of the Sinclairs, and grandfather Sinclair’s viewing of Gat as a threat. Gat tells Cadence that he is the Sinclair’s Heathcliff, and Cadence is taken aback, never thinking this was an issue or could be. Cadence’s hobby of transforming stories into new versions leads her to a revelation about her and Gat: “He asked questions about the universe and searched continually for answers. He thought wounds needed attention. In turn, the princess told the mouse fairytales, draw him pixelated portraits, and made him little crayon drawings. She laughed and argued with him. She felt awake for the first time in her life. It was not long before they loved each other dearly. If you want to live where people are not afraid of mice, you must give up living in palaces.” The realization: Cadence being a Sinclair and being in love with Gat did not work. Cadence begins to learn the negatives of her family, especially her grandfather: “Don’t take no for an answer seemed like the attitude of a privileged guy who didn’t care who got hurt, so long as his wife had the cute statues she wanted to display in her summerhouses.” Privilege is at the central of the Sinclairs, and it is not something Gat will ever be privy to.
Despite the strangeness between the liars and the obvious secrets Cadence is not a part of, the four of them still have tremendous moments, life-lasting moments: “No matter where we go, we will always be able to line up on the roof of the Cuddledown and gaze at the sea. The island is ours. Here, in some way, we are young forever.” We Were Liars is a book about acknowledging the temporariness of every moment while still learning to love it despite. Have the moments anyway. Somehow, they live on, always. “I love him. I have always loved him. We stay up there on the roof for a very, very long time. Forever.” A part of Cadence lives on the roof, with Gat, despite how real or unreal, how long lasting or temporary the actual moment is.
Suddenly, Cadence remembers: the fire. Her idea. Gat’s idea. Convincing Johnny and Mirren. Wanting to teach the Sinclairs, to show them how wrong and prejudiced and untrue their ‘problems’ were. Cadence’s memory triggers a sad, terrible reminder: the fire killed the dogs. Her sadness permeates everything and for days she cannot move. And when she tells the liars how terrible it is that they killed the dogs the three of them look downward, silent in the secret that Cadence is slowly uncovering on her own. The three liars almost become impatient with Cadence, begging her to please come to the truth.
And then the bomb. The real accident. The life shattering truth. “One night, two summers ago, on a warm July evening, Gatwick Patil, Mirren Sinclair, and Jonathan Sinclair perished in a house fire.” The heart break that feels as if a part of your soul is falling through your chest. Reading it again still has the same effect on me. Cadence, the only survivor. Cadence, hearing the screams of her favorite people in the world as they die. Her terrible and only choice to leave, to survive. Not remembering, her body’s defense against the pain.
The end of the novel is short. Cadence ponders the loss and what it all means. She learns that the question of why is pointless and yet unavoidable, something she’ll never be able to stop asking. She memorializes each of the loves of her life. “And Gat, my Gat. He wanted to stop evil. He wanted to express his anger. He lived big, my brave Gat. He didn’t shut up when people wanted him to, he made them listen- and then he listened in return. He refused to take things lightly, though he was always quick to laugh. Oh, he made me laugh. And made me think, even when I didn’t feel like thinking, even when I was too lazy to pay attention. I loved him. I love him. As best I could. But he was right. I did not know him all the way. His room must be empty by now. He has been dead two years. We might have been. We might have been.”
“Mirren, Gat, Johnny, and me. We have been here, this summer. And we have not been here. Yes, and no. And yet they love me anyway. They have said they love me. I have felt it in Gat’s kiss. In Johnny’s laugh. Mirren shouted it across the sea.” We make mistakes when we love as thoroughly as Cadence loves. She made a mistake bigger than one can possibly imagine. And yet. Despite how much has changed, how much pain she has inflicted, the moments last. The love lasts. And, somehow, it goes on.
Lockhart finishes with a reflection of self. Cadence promises herself to grow and to continue growing. To live with the tragedy. “Yes, it’s true that I fell in love with someone and that he died, along with the two other people I loved best in this world. That has been the main thing to know about me, the only thing about me for a very long time. But there must be more to know. There will be more. My full name is Cadence Sinclair Eastman. I suffer migraines. I do not suffer fools. I like a twist of meaning. I endure.”
This was such a beautifully sad book. It broke my heart and made me believe. We should love, should reach out to love, even with the promise that time will end it.
“It is good to be loved, even though it will not last. It is good to know that once upon a time, there was Gat and me.”