We were liars is an excellent book and E. Lockhart is an excellent writer. Let’s get that out of the way. You don’t need me to tell you that because everyone from John Green to the New York Times to Migraine.com has weighed in and told you that you must read this book this summer. It’s #29 on Amazon’s best seller list today. Another book that I think is doing pretty well, Adam, is #59,000. It really is “blisteringly smart” like John Green promises (though he could have said it better with out the adverb). Lockhart paints a cold, cynical portrait of a blue blood American family and weaves in fairy tale and fable before hitting it out of the park with a bit twist ending.
But this should not the smash YA book of the summer.
My complaint is not with Lockhart. She is talented and wrote an excellent book. She’s been at this for a while and she deserves her success. My complaint is with the publishers that chose to position her book as 2014’s “Must Read” and with us, the readers, for playing along. When I was first contemplating my response to We were liars I was going to criticize the YA marketing machine for their choice of descriptors:
A beautiful and distinguished family
A private island
A brilliant, damaged girl
Until I realized that those are apt descriptors for the book and that there is no way to describe this book without invoking melodrama or bringing to mind so many books like it that we have read before.
When will we get tired of paying attention to tall, blond, beautiful, rich characters?
I’m sorry to lay this criticism at Ms. Lockhart’s feet. It isn’t hers alone to bear and she shares it with other YA big guns like John Green and really I’m not blaming the writers at all. People are going to write what they know so the real problem is us, the readers and our unwillingness to demand, through our purchasing, something different. There are writers out there who can spin a yarn just as well as E. Lockhart who write characters who do not look like Cadence Sinclair and who have more to overcome in life than mean rich grandfathers and uncertain inheritances.
Guys. I’m making this criticism as a tall, white, blond girl. I see myself reflected back at me in books all the time and I’m sick of me. When we choose to only publish, market, celebrate, and consume books that feature a certain type of character we are making a judgement about the type of person who is worth paying attention to and that must feel like shit for the people who don’t look like Cadence Sinclair. Or Katniss Everdeen. Or Franny Glass.
Guys. The part of this that is especially crazy is that this problem is most prevalent in YA books. In adult fiction we have a much broader range of characters that we can relate to; the situation isn’t perfect but it’s better than in YA. But young adults! Who will use these books to shape their world view and their idea of self worth! Let’s tell them that the only people worth paying attention to are the ones with strong chins, perfect smiles and aggressive tennis serves.
Good plan guys.