It’s very hard for me to write a book review when I really, really didn’t enjoy a book that basically the entire rest of the reading world seems to LOVE. It’s also very hard to write the first ever book review on my new book blog without really having any idea of what I’m doing. With this review I’ll attempt to conquer both of these challenges and share my experience with We Were Liars without giving away much of anything. If you do plan to read this book, it would be much better for you to go into it without knowing too many details.
I think in my reviews I might discuss a little bit about my reading experience: where I got the book, how long it took me to read it, etc. Here goes with this one: on Fridays, I usually only work a half day and then spend the rest of my day running errands, taking care of things at places that are only open during the week and I wouldn’t otherwise get to, and almost always spending at least a little bit of time with my mom, who doesn’t work on Fridays at all. This past Friday, we went to the library and I picked this up along with 11/22/63 by the Fantastic Mr. King, though I haven’t had a chance to even open that one up. Because this book was so short I figured I could knock it out in a few hours on Friday night before my very busy weekend, which is exactly what I did. Even though I had to reread many sentences and passages for comprehension, which I’ll discuss in a minute, I was completely engrossed by this book during my reading and knew that I would not be able to put it down until I reached the last page. However, just because I was engrossed doesn’t mean that I enjoyed. I simply had to know what happened to be able to close the book and be done with it.
I was motivated to read this book after seeing some highly laudatory reviews, including one from John Green right on the cover. After getting a few pages in, I figured it would just be another typical YA summer read – spoiled rich teenager is upset by her parents’ divorce, goes to see other spoiled rich teenagers (in this case, her cousins), and they all do their spoiled rich teenagery things in their family’s complex near Martha’s Vineyard. I was very wrong. I honestly don’t want to give anything else away because there is a twist even more twisty than anything in a Gillian Flynn novel. Some people will LOVE this. I was completely blown away, not in a good way, but simply because of just how absolutely unrealistic the ending to this book was. Suffice it to say that the way the other characters continued to treat the main character after the twist was revealed would just never, ever happen in real life, and this was NOT a fantasy book, so I didn’t enjoy my reading experience.
Besides the plot (contrived) and the characters (basically all of them, except maybe one, the main character’s love interest, were truly horrible people), I could not get into the writing style, for two main reasons:
(1) Passages like this. This is on page 5 so it’s not a spoiler:
“Then he pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest. I was standing on the lawn and I fell. The bullet hole opened wide and my heart rolled out of my rib cage and down into a flower bed. Blood gushed rhythmically from my open wound…”
So it turns out that in this part of the book, the main character/narrator’s father did NOT actually shoot her. At all. Not even a bit. I had to read this, and similar passages, so many times because sometimes she was really hurt, sometimes she wasn’t hurt at all, and all of the time I had no idea whether the heck she was or not. The author’s use of “metaphor” was just completely overboard and melodramatic in this way. Yes, if my father had left us when I was 14, I too would be so upset that it would feel LIKE he had shot me in the chest. But the way that the author attempted to go about describing these feelings just wasn’t clear enough and made me angry and confused instead of sympathetic for the narrator who really does go through a lot.
(2) Writing like this. I am cool with books that are all prose. I am cool with books that are all poetry. I am even cool with books that switch off writing styles between chapters or some other device like that.
What I am not cool with is when a book is mostly written in completely normal prose and then out of
that it is going to be a poem
just a couple of
words on each line
and annoy the frick out of me
I honestly feel BAD that I didn’t find this book as moving, as poetic, as beautiful, as perfect as many of the reviewers on Goodreads and Tumblr did, most of whom I trust and respect a great deal. As I mentioned above, basically none of the characters are likable at all, so I didn’t really care what happened to them or why; the overuse of literary devices bothered me; and most of all the “amazing! so surprising! so OMG!!!” ending left me feeling completely hollow and unsatisfied. One thing I DID really, really enjoy was the use of the fairy tale device at the beginning of some of the chapters, set off with italics and continuously transformed to fit the characters’ current situation. I would have loved to see that explored a bit more instead of the bad metaphors/fake poetry/repetition/everything else that drove me bonkers about this book.
This book has the honor of being my first 1-star reviewed book on Goodreads, and so shall it be on this blog. Before you decide whether or not to take the plunge, definitely take a look at some of the more positive reviews. There are some like mine, but many others who adored this, some even for the same reasons that made me hate it so much.