E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars took the book community by storm back in 2014, and the author has returned with a prequel nearly a decade later. Family of Liars features many of the same elements that made the original story such a success, tackling themes of growing up and grief while diving deeper into the world of the Sinclair family. Although this follow-up isn’t quite as impressive as We Were Liars, it’s a completely serviceable story that will no doubt hook readers from start to finish.
Set 27 years before the events of We Were Liars, Family of Liars follows the previous generation of the Sinclair family. Readers have already met Cassie, Penny, and Bess as adults warring over the family fortune. In Family of Liars, they appear as teenagers—still stoic and obsessed with their image, but significantly more vulnerable than the last time we saw them.
Family of Liars offers readers Cassie’s perspective. And as it turns out, there’s more to Johnny’s mother than you’d think after reading We Were Liars. Cassie takes readers through her early years on Beechwood Island as she recounts “the worst thing” she’s ever done to Johnny’s ghost. That’s right, the spectral appearances on Beechwood Island keep coming in this prequel, proving Cady’s adventures from Book 1 weren’t all in her head. The Sinclair family’s private oasis is tainted by a tragedy that goes back further than Cady’s story. So, really, it’s no surprise ghosts make a habit of haunting the place.
In fact, one of the biggest revelations from Family of Liars is casually thrown in at the beginning of the book. There used to be a fourth Sinclair sister, younger than Cassie, Penny, and Bess. However, Rosemary drowned the summer Cassie turned 16. In typical Sinclair fashion, the family avoids dwelling on her absence. Only Cassie seems unable to keep her emotions in check, and that’s probably why her youngest sister returns to her after death.
Oddly enough, Rosemary’s ghostly presence isn’t the central focus of Family of Liars—though it does spark conversations about loss. But the prequel’s real story begins when a group of boys arrives on Beechwood Island, bringing romance and drama into the Sinclair sisters’ lives.
One of the boys—Lawrence Pfefferman, dubbed Pfeff for short—catches Cassie’s eye from the moment he arrives. Their summer romance proves a convenient distraction from her grief. Of course, the present-day Cassie is treating this story as a confession, so her fling with Pfeff seems destined to end in tragedy.
And that’s the central mystery of the book: what happens that summer to leave Cassie feeling so guilty? The novel builds tension as it leads to that big reveal. Unfortunately, the surprise isn’t on the same level as We Were Liars’ primary twist. Although the prequel uses similar storytelling devices—including an unreliable narrator—it doesn’t manage to evoke the same level of shock or emotion.
That could be due to the prequel’s leads, all of whom are less likable than Cady and her Liars. To Lockhart’s credit, she does an impressive job of engaging readers regardless of her characters’ considerable flaws. Unfortunately, that balancing act only goes so far. While fans will want to discover what happens to Cassie that summer, her story is less likely to pull heartstrings than We Were Liars did. The climax of the prequel might be as dark as the original, but it’s considerably less devastating.
In some ways, Cassie’s connection to her family and her grief over Rosemary is more gripping than the story’s main mystery. Lockhart ties Cassie’s struggle with her place in the family into the central storyline nicely. Rosemary’s presence, on the other hand, feels slightly disconnected—though it does help establish a similar atmosphere to We Were Liars.
The parallels between the original story and Family of Liars help seamlessly reinsert readers back into the Sinclairs’ lives. From the island’s ghostly apparitions to Cassie’s fairytales, all of the similarities allow fans to pick up right where they left off. The connections to the previous novel are some of the strongest aspects of Family of Liars.
As such, Lockhart’s latest will appeal to fans of her work, even if it isn’t as strong as her 2014 release. Despite a few shortcomings, its fast-paced, tense plot makes it easy to devour in one sitting. Once it pulls you in, it doesn’t let go. It’s bound to be among the summer’s most entertaining reads.
Family of Liars
is available now.
Amanda Mullen is a pop culture writer who can usually be found juggling her never-ending Netflix queue with the pile of books she needs to read. You can find her gushing about all things entertainment @peaksandpages on Twitter.