Teen Volunteer Book Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Book Review written by Maya McKinnie

Maya is sixteen years old, and a summer 2021 teen volunteer

First line of the book: “Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair Family. No one is a criminal. No one is an addict. No one is a failure.”

Summary: We Were Liars is the story of Cadence Eastman, a girl with a “perfect” family that is falling apart. Each summer they travel to a private island off the coast of Massachusetts. The Sinclair family is composed of Grandfather Harris Sinclair, the aunts: Penny, Carrie, and Bess, the littles: Will, Taft Liberty, and Bonnie, and last but not least the liars: Cadence, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat. The story centers on Cadence and her group of cousins nicknamed the liars. Cadence suffers from post-traumatic headaches ever since an accident that happened two summers ago (summer fifteen). The thing is she can’t remember anything about the events that led up to her accident. Her mother claims that she would tell her every day what happened but then the next day Cadence would simply ask again. Finally the doctors told her mother to leave it alone and that it was best if Cadence remembered on her own. The only part of the story Cadence seems to retain is that she went swimming one night in late July all alone, was later found curled up on the beach half naked, and no one knows what happened. In addition to this piece of information, she remembers bits and pieces of summer fifteen but there are a few gaps in her memory. The main plot of the story begins when Cadence returns for the first time since the incident to the island to spend three weeks of the summer with her family and beloved liars. Determinedly she makes it her goal to discover for herself the truth of what happened during summer fifteen.

Thoughts: One of the best aspects of this story is the ultimate friendship that exists between Cadence, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat. I also loved the idea of a broken family that looks perfect on the outside. Overall I thought it was really well written and I loved the unique style the author wrote in. The ending was very unexpected but I absolutely loved it and would definitely recommend it for anyone who loves a story about overcoming tragedy narrated by the main character.

Favorite Quote: “We should not accept an evil we can change.”

FYI: There is definitely some foul language but not much more than your average YA novel. This book also might be unsuitable for those who are triggered by death, grief, or fire. 

Courntey’s Book Chat: The Gilded Wolves

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

First Line: Severin glanced at the clock: two minutes left. 

Summary: In this YA Historical Fantasy set in 1889 Paris, when Severin is offered his true inheritance in exchange for stealing a precious artifact, he and four recruited experts work to hunt it down while staying ahead of a dark mystery.

My Thoughts: I didn’t want The Gilded Wolves to end.

I loved each of the characters. They were all fully developed and each had their own quirks, strengths, and weaknesses. My favorite part was how they all interacted with each other, complete with witty banter and genuine love. Chokshi pulls off an ensemble cast exceedingly well. The characters are also richly diverse, with the main characters being people of color, two fitting in the LGBTQ community, and one reading as neurodivergent. I enjoyed reading each of the four point-of-view characters’ chapters.

The plot is ripe with tension and twists. Each moment is suspenseful, intriguing, and replete with mystery as the characters go through their mission. The puzzles and codes the characters have to solve are so interesting, incorporating bits of world building, history, and math. I especially loved how each character’s interests and backgrounds help them solve the codes.

The re-imagined history is also intriguing, with the fantasy elements skillfully woven into the story. Chokshi writes incredibly lush descriptions, and though dense, the writing never feel tedious to read through and adds to the smart and sophisticated story, world, and cast of characters. This book also addresses colonialism, repatriation, and greed, which makes for an interesting and relevant read.

I found the end slightly disappointing, but The Gilded Wolves as a whole is a beautiful and stunning, filled with twists and turns, a delightful ensemble cast, and plenty of mystery.

Book Review: Origins

Origins by Dan Brown

First line: As the ancient cogwheel train clawed its way up the dizzying incline, Edmond Kirsch surveyed the jagged mountaintop above him.

Summary: Robert Langdon is back in his newest adventure. While attending a special screening at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, he witnesses the murder of his former student and friend, Edmond Kirsch. Kirsch, an outspoken atheist and billionaire scientist, is unveiling his most recent discovery that is going to rattle the religious communities around the world. Before he is able to reveal his research, he is shot on live television. With the help of the future Queen of Spain, Ambra Vidal, Robert has to evade the police and find out how to release Kirsch’s presentation before the killer finds him.

Highlights: As with all the Robert Langdon books this one is fast paced and filled with codes and twists. I would love to have his eidetic memory and knowledge. My favorite parts of Dan Brown’s novels are that he takes you to real places and uses facts for his story. I was constantly Googling the locations and facts to find out more and to see pictures. I have never visited or studied much about Spain but now I am very interested. I love the way the suspense builds throughout the novel. He keeps the reader invested and itching to learn more.

Lowlights: I struggled at the end when the science behind everything is explained. I skipped around during this chapter in order to keep myself interested. Since I have read all the other Robert Langdon books, I was looking for the shocking ending. I was able to guess some of the twists because I look for them. However, I was satisfied.

FYI: Book 5 in the Robert Langdon series.