Carrie is a Sinclair. This means she has grown up a child of privilege, with the best clothes, schools, and experiences. It also means there is pressure on her to be perfect. To always be an example to her younger sisters and to excel academically, socially, and athletically. To get surgery on her jaw when her father, Harris, worries that her jaw makes her look weak. Being a Sinclair means always keeping a stiff upper lip even when the youngest Sinclair, 10-year-old Rosemary, drowns. “Be a credit to the family,” is Harris and Tipper’s instruction to their daughters.
Carrie has spent every summer vacationing at her family’s summer home on a private island off of Massachusetts. It is a time for beach days with her sisters and cousins, her mother’s elaborate dinners, ice cream, tennis, and croquet. At seventeen, Carrie is worried about returning to the island as it will be the first summer without Rosemary and the first summer where she has to hide the narcotics addiction she developed after surgery. Carrie is distracted from her fears when her cousin, Yardley, arrives on the island with three handsome eighteen-year-old boys. Carrie, unlike her younger sisters, has never had a boyfriend, but Pfeff, who Yardley has warned her about, seems to like her and she is interested in him. It should be the most exciting summer ever on the island, but the combination of privileged boys, competitive siblings, and geographical isolation turn a promising summer into tragedy and carefully constructed lies.
Family of Liars is the prequel to We Were Liars, which is set in the modern day with Carrie’s and her sisters’ children as the main characters. If you haven’t read We Were Liars, I don’t recommend starting with Family of Liars in spite of it being chronically first as there is a large spoiler for We Were Liars at the beginning. Family of Liars is narrated by an adult Carrie looking back on her 17-year-old self. As she narrates, Carrie mostly taps into her teenage self, but there are times you can sense the adult Carrie. Adult Carrie acknowledges the privilege of generational wealth, while teen Carrie growing up in the wealth-obsessed eighties surrounded by wealthy family members and classmates, would have understood that she was unusually wealthy but not much about how it affected how she related to the world.
Carrie explains her world through fairy tales, the same stories she used to tell her youngest sister, Rosemary. Carrie and those in her life are imprinted onto the fairy tale characters. Sometimes Carrie views herself as the hero and sometimes as the villain. Sometimes she acknowledges that she is both at the same time. She tells these stories to herself, to the reader, and to Rosemary, who visits her on the island as a ghost.
Family of Liars is a perfect beach read. E Lockhart has a gorgeous writing style, and there is a dreamlike nature to the story. The story’s appeal is a combination of well developed characters, a fascination with how the 1% live, the depiction of the best and worst of family life, the slow revelation of secrets, and just a hint of Greek tragedy. Highly recommended for those who enjoy beach reads, family stories, and YA. Readers who are repulsed by overly privileged characters may want to pass on this one. It may not be suitable for younger YA readers due to language, substance abuse, and sexual situations.