family of liars by e. lockhart
I think the most important thing to keep in mind about this book is that it contains a major spoiler, so although it’s a prequel do not read it before we were liars.
It’s a running joke in our book club - Story Bites Reads - that a good book always needs at least one prequel to give context to its twist and turns, and so it I was excited to hear that a prequel to we were liars was on its way, and I wasn’t disappointed.
family of liars takes us back to Beechwood Island, a private island owned by the Sinclair family off the coast of Massachusetts, a generation before the first book. Telling the story of the summer of 1987, Johnny’s mother Caroline reveals what it is to be part of the Sinclair family and we see how events shape her to tragically become one of them: someone who show no weakness, keep everything to yourself and keep up a pretence of everything being perfectly normal and calm. The cost of dealing with this summer of betrayal, secrets and lies creates a twisting, gut wrenching story that gives us a closer look at a family built on secrets and the individual and collective tragedy that unfolds as a result of being caught in a highly dysfunctional family dynamic.
In Caroline we find a sensitive portrayal of a teenager silently trying to become herself against impossible odds and surrounded by a cast of wholly unlikable characters; the psychological tension this creates is gripping. I find myself not wanting to give anything away, but the book does deal with all the tropes expected, from first love to drug addiction and grief. That said, it does so in sensitive and quite unexpected ways, which does account for the twisting nature of a story that lacks the final shocking twist of the first book.
All in all, I enjoyed family of liars more than we were liars, perhaps be due to my growing up in the 80s, and the book does stand alone if you don’t intend reading the first. The beauty of e. lockhart’s exquisite clarity of writing carries us almost voyeuristically through Carrie’s summer, with my imagined Carrie voice acting as a voiceover in my mind. It’s scarily realistic at times, and points which I feel should be shocking just happened. This perhaps says a lot about how we accept or assume how the lives of some are conducted in society now.