We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

we were liars

It’s been months since I’ve done a YA literature book review, not because I’ve given up on the genre now that I’ve been out of a middle school classroom for a few years, but more because it has been awhile since I’ve found one that really stood out to me. While I love the dystopian genre as much as anyone (although, I have to say I don’t think I am going to be able to bring myself to go see The Giver when it comes out in theaters soon; how could they possibly have done that better than the book?), I am getting a little worn out on it. Authors are churning these books out in the way of vampire books a few years ago; it’s becoming mundane and derivative and I’d love to see a new spin on it. Until then, I may have to walk away from YA dystopian for the foreseeable future.

Luckily, there is still great YA rolling off the presses and E. Lockhart is leading the way with the recently published We Were Liars. This book hooked me from the very start, drawing me into a world of a publicly distinguished, but privately broken family who spends every summer together on their own private island. While the adults (three sisters) are enmeshed in a King Lear-esque drama over who will inherit the kingdom, the oldest of the cousins come together each summer to fritter away the warm months, each year growing more aware that their family is break apart even as they grow closer, with nothing short of tragedy to turn their tale around.

Cadence, one of the “Liars” (the nickname given to this coterie of kids who live separate lives for nine months out of the year, but then gel together as one for the warm, long days of summer) and our narrator throughout, feels like a reliable narrator, until the reader realizes that the story she tells may have other versions that she is unwilling or unable to share. While the twists of her account are not necessarily obvious until later in the novel, E. Lockhart’s use of fairy tales to weave together the adult and teen components of Cadence’s recollection give the reader a feeling of not all being quite as it seems. What may seem like a perfect American family soon has cracks that are irreparable, making the reader realize that maybe the idea of a “perfect” family fits with Hans Christian Anderson’s compilations more than it does any reality of this world.

The instant I finished this book, I sent a message to my oldest niece (an 8th graders and avid reader), telling her to drop everything and go find this book. If I still had a classroom, I’d go out and buy several copies to start handing out to students on the first day of school. It really is that good! E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars is going to draw in a variety of readers, both male and female, from the middle grades up. Any book that keeps me up until 2AM, swiping page after page easily earns:

books shellbooks shell

 books shellbooks shellbooks shell

The Unquiet by Jeannine Garsee

The Unquiet by Jeannine Garsee

If you are one to skip to the “shell rating” at the bottom before reading the review itself, I think it is only fair for me to include a bit of a disclaimer on this one. There is no gentle way to put this, no beating around the bush, no softening of the harsh reality. I am a chicken. I can’t watch scary movies; heck, I can’t even watch the commercials/trailers for scary movies. I hate being the last one awake at night, which works out well since my husband is a total night owl. And I can’t handle creepy books. I read James and the Giant Peach when I was in elementary school and woke up to nightmares about gargantuan bugs having a tea party in my bedroom.  That is the extent of my wimpy-ness. So, while the shell-rating isn’t as high as one might hope for in a book review, keep in mind much of that designation has its foundation in the fact that for many years, I considered Roald Dahl’s writing to fall firmly in the horror genre.

The Unquiet is creepy. That is the first and most important thing a reader should know. The tale centers on Rinn, a teenage girl who has recently moved back to her mom’s hometown in middle America from a sunny southern California upbringing. The move is precipitated by the fact that her mother and adopted father are having some marital problems, stemming from the fact that Rinn, a bipolar teenager who has experienced psychotic episodes, accidentally started a fire that killed her grandmother. After the death of her grandmother, Rinn tries to kill herself. Once she is released from the care of the mental ward of a hospital, her parents decide some time apart and away would be best for everyone.

Rinn, while not thrilled with the move, soon makes friends at her new high school, which is odd in itself, as she was never the stereotypical social butterfly. But, not long after moving in, she learns that the school is haunted by a girl who died in the pool. That doesn’t necessarily set off any alarms for Rinn, but when she learns that the dead girl’s grandmother hanged herself in the bedroom Rinn now sleeps in, things start to spiral out of control.

The sleep Midwestern town is suddenly plagued by inexplicable accidents and deaths and Rinn is tied up in the middle of all of them.  She and her new friends (who as characters are rather flat and underdeveloped, but that is a whole different discussion) seem to be the epicenter for the evil that emanates from the pool room.

Some will love the creep factor that this book offers. It kept me awake more than one night this last week. But, that isn’t all Garsee’s novel has to offer. Instead of just being your run of the mill horror story, it tackles the issue of mental illness in teenagers, a tough subject, but one that is a reality for some young adults. Watching Rinn struggle with her perceptions of reality and the side effects of her medication create a deeper story than if the author just stuck with a teenage ghost story. This element of the novel creates some redeeming moments that make me more apt to recommend it to students.

In the end, Jeannine Garsee’s The Unquiet, is a more than a bit spine-chilling, but that is the point, after all. If a few nights of curled up under the blankets covered in goose bumps and jumping at every creak of the house sounds like a good read to you, this is your book. While I understand the draw, it is not my cup of tea, so The Unquiet earns: