We Were Liars

Book review by
Joly Herman, Common Sense Media
We Were Liars Book Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
A privileged life goes askew in haunting summer mystery.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 9 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 58 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers get a feel for old-money institutions, lifestyles, preppy fashion, and East Coast vacation spots.  

Positive Messages

The Liars show devotion to each other, but the choices they make are questionable. Gat tries to teach the Liars about life for the other 99 percent of the world, but they're not interested in poverty and struggle.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Few people in Cady's life act selflessly, but Gat and Mirren both have some things to say about being compassionate. Parents are checked out and tipsy.


Violence and death are themes, but not always in a literal sense. When Cady falls victim to migraines or fantasies, the images she conjures up are bloody and brutal. For example, she says that her father "took out a handgun and shot me in the chest." It's believable for a second, but then the reader understands that this is only a metaphor for him leaving her during her parent's divorce. Cady also has suicide fantasies, imagining herself to be "a beautiful corpse." A terrible accident does cause people to die.  


Kissing and sensual exploration with shirts off, but no graphic details.


Swear words are infrequent but powerful when used: "ass," "damn," "God," "Jesus," "bulls--t," "s--tty," "f--ck," "f--cking," "f--ckload," "f--cked up." 


Cadence and Gat are particularly aware of the trappings that go with the good life: a Saab, BMW, Tiffany items, iPads, and the colleges Harvard, Bryn Mawr, and Pomona. A couple of video games get mentioned: Angry Birds and DragonVale. Notably, most of the tension in the book has to do with who inherits what, so those lovely things and beautiful homes are very important to most of the characters.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Underage and adult drinking and drunkenness. Cadence takes Percocet for pain and admits she's possibly addicted to it.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that National Book Award finalist E. Lockhart's We Were Liars is a mystery involving privileged families at their summer retreat near Martha's Vineyard. Violence lurks beneath the golden life that Cady and her family enjoy on Beechwood Island, and there's an accident that causes death. Arguments, feuds, and revenge are fueled by questions of who will inherit the Sinclair fortune. Sex (kissing, sensual exploration), drinking, drug use (a pain killer), and language here are pretty tame compared with other books for teens. Swearing includes "bulls--t," "s--tty," and "f--k" and its variations. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bytobier February 2, 2015
The writing style is very poetic. I like how it delves into issues of race and class in a simple way younger readers could understand.

Also, "Her parents... Continue reading
Adult Written byLydia C. January 25, 2017

Beautifully written and worth the read

*some spoilers*
This book will probably always be one of my favorites. Everything about the book was amazing, the entire time I was hanging onto every word, if... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byminakat February 9, 2016


The book always keeps you interested and you won't be able to put the book down till the truth comes out. It does cuss/swear but not bad enough to not read... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old October 10, 2016

This is my very favourite book!

I think that it is an outstanding book and a year after reading, it is still my favourite!
The characters are really developed, and I will admit that I did cry... Continue reading

What's the story?

Cadence Sinclair Eastman spends summers on her family's island near Martha's Vineyard. Yes, her family has an entire island, where each of Harris Sinclair's three daughters has a house. The kids who populate these houses are cousins and cohorts; the oldest posse of the cousins call themselves the Liars. Her parents' dramatic divorce leaves Cady with horrible migraines. She finds comfort at Beechwood Island with her cousins, particularly with a stepcousin named Gat. The Sinclair family begins to fracture, as the aunts vie for their share of the inheritance, and the Liars decide to take matters into their own hands.

Is it any good?

It's the kind of story many kids dream of playing a role in -- golden sunsets on a private island, a tight-knit family, funny and cool kids -- but the characters aren't developed enough to be loved. In fact, readers never get a real sense of why the kids earned the name Liars. The half-sentences and lists provide a poetic tone, lending a smart edge to a mysterious narrative, but the meat of the story, the bond between the Liars themselves, is not entirely clear. Although the drunken family members are supposed to be pitied, they're simply too aloof to provoke compassion. The references to King Lear are obvious to the point of being redundant.

E. Lockhart writes with confidence about upper-crust life on the East Coast ("The Sinclairs are tall, athletic and handsome...Our smiles are wide, our chins square, and our tennis serves aggressive"). And there are moments where the island comes to life in beautiful, nautical colors. Moreover, the plot twist ends up revealing something truly shocking, and it makes reading the novel worth the effort. But whether We Were Liars succeeds in making the reader really care about its characters' fate is another question.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how family expectations can hurt a teen's sense of self. All parents want the best for their kids, but what's going on in We Were Liars that makes those expectations unbearable? How do the kids react?

  • Cadence sends a number of emails to her cousins that are left unanswered, and she's very hurt by this. How does social media serve to connect us, and how can we be hurt by it? 

  • The little kids on the island are totally involved in video games and their iPads. What are they missing out on? How much time do you spend gaming? What might you be missing out on?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age stories

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