Eighteen-year-old Cady is self-absorbed and readers quickly discover how she and her mother rely on Granddad to fund their lifestyle, as well as, two of Cady's aunts. Each summer Cady's family goes to Windemere House on Beechwood island off the coast of Martha's Vineyard. Cady hangs out with her aunts and cousins: Johnny, Mirren, and Gat (step cousin) dubbed, "The Liars." Cady, who is Caucasian, is in love with Gat who is Indian and whose dad lives with Cady's aunt. Granddad doesn't accept Gat or his father because they are Indian, but he tolerates them. Gat likes to think philosophically, unlike Cady, Johnny, and Mirren who are comfortable with the superficiality of their lives. However, it becomes clear that all of the Liars don't face the truth, including Gat. When Gran dies, Cady's mom and two sisters start to fight over the estate causing stress among the family.
The broken and choppy prose reflects Cady's frail state of mind. Two years ago something happened to her on the island where Cady had an accident but she has amnesia and all she knows is that she was found washed ashore in her underwear. She wonders if she was raped or attacked, but no one will talk about it. The aftermath of the accident has left her with debilitating migraines and she is on heavy medication that clouds her thinking. On a trip to Europe with her father she explains, "I lay prone on the bathroom floors of several museums, feeling the cold tile underneath my cheek as my brain liquefied and seeped out my ear, bubbling. Migraines left my blood spreading across unfamiliar hotel sheets, dripping on the floors, oozing into carpets, soaking through leftover croissants, and Italian lace cookies."
Blood is used to describe Cady's feelings and migraines. In this story, blood symbolizes pain, sacrifice, death, and guilt, to name a few. It foreshadows the novel's end and adds to the surreal, tense narration. Cady has wanted to go back to Windemere but her mother won't let her go until two years after her accident. She is together again with the Liars, but things are different. Their conversations turn from superficial to underlying causes of unhappiness in the family. Plus, Cady is not the only one sick, so is Mirren and the aunts show new characteristics they did not have before the accident. One aunt cleans compulsively and the other suffers from insomnia. This family, with all its privileges, suffers like all families do even though they have so much money they "don't have to think about it." Family members refuse to talk about things in the open and emotions must be hidden behind a false smile and "square chin" in the air.
While the ending is more horrific than I expected, I was able to predict what happened but not the how. Because the author shows the reader immediately that the narrator is unreliable, I looked more closely for the twist. The fun with this writing technique is the big surprise hidden in the plot. While I guessed it in the first third of the book, the author does a great job making it even more complex than what I had figured out.
As far as characters, Cady is not admirable; however, she is compelling. Even though she is self-centered and shallow, she does want to improve and become a better person. She starts to see less importance in materialism, although she does recognize that she and her mother rely on Granddad's money. She thinks Gat brings out the good qualities in her and is one reason she loves him. She does grow and learn to face the truth, but I would not call it a story of redemption. Her character arc is more of a look at post-traumatic-stress syndrome and trying to learn to live with an awful truth.
Cady makes up fairy tale stories during the plot that become a parable of sorts reflecting the Sinclair oligarchy. All the power is vested in Granddad. He is the King and since his Queen or wife has died he has become manipulative of his children. He uses the power of his wealth over his three children who then put pressure on their children to be obsequious to Granddad. When Granddad's wife dies, the three children or direct descendants of Granddad start to fight over material possessions. The fairy tale Cady makes up reveals the lie they are living that their happily-ever-after is more of broken-ever-after-but-now-united. The ending does give hope. All of the relatives are forever changed from Cady's accident. At 225 pages the author does a terrific job making every word count and using the language itself to mimic the protagonist's fragile state of mind. An unforgettable page turner that is hard to put down.