Study Guide

We Were Liars Summary

By E. Lockhart

We Were Liars Summary

We Were Liars jumps around in time a lot, but it's organized into four handy sections to make things clearer.

Part One: Welcome

Cadence Sinclair is seventeen, almost eighteen. She's had an accident she can't remember, and she's left with crippling migraines. Her life basically consists of hanging out with in her big, fancy house in Burlington, Vermont, taking prescription drugs and reading books beneath a pile of Golden Retrievers. (We know, there are worse things you could think of. But the traumatic brain injury part wouldn't be much fun.)

She tells us about the summer she turned fifteen, which was the year her parents split up. Her dad, a college history professor, got sick of her rich, power-tripping granddad Harris, and he left. Cadence's mom responded by getting rid of everything he ever gave her and taking Cadence to Beechwood, the family's private island, where they have another big, fancy house called Windemere.

We learn about the other inhabitants of the island: Harris, his wife Tipper, Cadence's aunts Carrie and Bess, and the onslaught of cousins, particularly Johnny and Mirren, who are Cadence's age. There's also Gat, Johnny's friend, who first came to Beechwood with Johnny when they were all eight years old. He's been coming back every summer since, and Cadence is in love with him. The four of them are known among the family as the Liars. (You'll see why later.)

Summer fourteen was when their romance really blossomed, and Cadence was psyched for summer fifteen. However, when she arrived on Beechwood in the wake of her parents' split, she saw Gat putting a dried beach rose into an envelope to send to another girl, and it broke her heart. Compounding the heartbreak was the fact that Granny Tipper died a couple of months prior, so it was everybody's first summer on the island without her.

The last thing Cadence remembers about summer fifteen is waking up on the beach half-dressed, with none of the other Liars there. During the first year of her recuperation, she emailed them often, but none of them ever answered her.

Part Two: Vermont

Cadence starts writing fairytales, in which there are always three sisters and a king. They're fables based on the troubled relationship her mother and aunts have with her grandfather. She also starts giving away all her possessions, although she's not sure why. She just knows someone else could use her pillow, toothbrush, picture frames, and books more than she could.

She remembers only a few things about summer fifteen, and they all have to do with a fire, but she's not clear about the details. Her mom claims that she's told Cadence the story many times, but Cadence never remembers. Her doctors have said it would be best for her to remember on her own.

Although her parents forced her to spend summer sixteen on a trip to Europe with her dad instead of going to Beechwood, her mom's taking her back to Beechwood for four weeks of the upcoming summer seventeen. Her cousin Taft calls just before she arrives to tell her that Cuddledown, one of the houses on the island, is haunted, and to ask if Cadence is a drug addict.

Part Three: Summer Seventeen

This is the longest section in the book, and the one in which Cadence's memories slowly start to return with the help of the Liars. They've all taken up residence in Aunt Bess's house, Cuddledown, because Bess has moved into New Clairmont to take care of the aging Harris. Clairmont was Harris and Tipper's former mansion; Cadence isn't quite sure why it's been replaced with an entirely new house. She has exactly one month on Beechwood to figure out what went down.

Here's what she learns, in a nutshell: The aunts were drinking and fighting over the inheritance all the time, and Harris was egging them on. When their mothers tried to suck the Liars into the drama, demanding that they ask Harris for specific items, the Liars rebelled. After a big blowup one night, in which everyone else left the island, they stayed behind and burned Clairmont down. They thought that if they destroyed the stuff everyone was fighting over, everyone would stop fighting.

Part Four: Look, a Fire

Cadence remembers the gory details. She, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat doused the Clairmont rooms with gasoline and torched the place. Harris's Golden Retrievers, Prince Philip and Fatima, were trapped inside, and they died. When Cadence tells the Liars she remembers what happened to the dogs, they ask if that's all she remembers. She presses Gat for details, but all he can say is that being romantic with her for the past month was a mistake.

Part Five: Truth

Cadence finally recalls that the other Liars were trapped inside Clairmont, too. They all died in the fire; she was the only one who escaped. The people she's been hanging with in Cuddledown all summer are ghosts.

Harris thinks Cadence wasn't in the house at the time of the fire, and that's why she survived. He doesn't know that she masterminded the whole thing, and only got out because she was the only person on the first floor.

She goes to Cuddledown to tell the Liars she knows the truth. They're glad she realized, because it's been getting harder and harder for them to stick around. They're tired, and they want to go back to wherever it is dead people go, which they describe as being "like nothing." Cadence walks to the beach with them, where they go into the water and disappear. She goes back to Clairmont to rejoin the rest of the family, resolving to make something of her life and to be kinder from now on.

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