What honestly surprised me most was learning about the reader base for this genre; I would never have guessed that only 20% of the readers of young adult fiction is the age group targeted (13-17). Many more (27%) were in the 30 – 44 group, and even more still were in the 18-29 category (34%). So, should 80% of those consuming these novels be embarrassed? Should we be reading the literary greats instead or should we just be happy that people are still reading books at all?
It’s hard to say much about the novel without giving away the plot, but the story centers around a 15 year old girl named Cadence and her summers with her family on their private island in Massachusetts. Cadence, alongside her two cousins Johnny and Mirren and their family friend Gat, make up an inseparable group that call themselves “The Liars.” Summer 15 marks a turning point. Once night Cadence is found washed up on shore, naked, hypothermic, with her memory compromised. Over the next year, she struggles to remember what happened. She turns to The Liars, her two cousins and Gat, her first love, to try to uncover a past that her family seems intent on burying.
The premise sounded find to me, but I think my biggest issue was how gimmicky the book felt. Cadence belongs to a wealthy New England family that quarrels over money and has children named things like Mirren, Liberty, and Taft. They “summer” together on an island. The head of the family is Cadence’s grandfather, who shuns outsiders and punishes perceived imperfections with threats of removal from his will. The book oozes stereotypes to a nauseating degree. But that could potentially have been forgiven had the plot been compelling enough in the end – from my perspective, it wasn’t.
I also didn’t find myself attached to any of the characters throughout the course of the story the way one normally does in good young adult fiction. I think one of the great things about the genre is often how much readers connect with characters like Hazel Grace and Gus from The Fault In Our Stars or Charlie from The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The emotional bond and the identifiable struggles are often where these books garner the bulk of their strength.
But there are books, like Gossip Girl, for example that focus on a subset of society and make it work. What We Were Liars lacks is characters that are believable as human beings outside of the realm of fiction. These were not people who could exist outside the realm of imagination. In the end, I would recommend passing on this one. There are better beach reads out there, and others more worth of spending your money on.
As to the young adult fiction debate, I think that despite the slight sense of shame I experience when I realize I’m a college-educated 25 year old who is reading stories targeted at readers a decade younger, I refuse to shun any genre as a whole. In the end, it’s better to be reading something than nothing at all.