In this corner: Marie Lu’s The Young Elites, a paranormal adventure detailing the rise of Adelina Amouteru. Adelina survived a deadly illness that left her with strange markings, supernatural powers, and societal scorn. After leaving her cruel father in the dust, she joins the secret society of the Young Elites and begins to develop her ability to create illusions — an ability strengthened by fear and fury.
And in this corner: E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars, a realistic mystery in which Cadence Sinclair Easton struggles to piece together what happened during her fifteenth summer. During summers spent on her family’s private island off the coast of Massachusetts, Cadence and her cousins and their dear friend have been inseparable. Now, Cadence suffers from amnesia and migraines after a mysterious accident and struggles to understand the changes around her.
The title of each book could almost describe the other. Two different visions of privilege play out, with We Were Liars centering on old money as a source of power and The Young Elites on unnatural abilities. Both books place our protagonists in tiny and select groups. Adelina’s lies rival those of Cadence — she doesn’t just lie to everyone around her, she creates illusions that twist their very perceptions of what is real. Meanwhile, Cadence is a highly unreliable narrator who has covered over unpleasant events in the past with such skill that she literally can’t remember them. When I set out to compare these titles, I wasn’t sure I could juxtapose such vastly different genres. But once I started, I found parallels everywhere I looked.
Our protagonists have strong and complex ties to difficult relatives. Although the Sinclairs are far more affectionate than the Amouterus, a quest for power drives a wedge between generations and spurs destructive behavior in both families. Cadence’s mother and her two sisters vie for their father’s love and money. In sharp contrast, Cadence loves her cousins and friend with abandon. Adelina’s father abuses her and eventually drives her to lash out at him, while her feelings toward her sister swing between love, hate, jealousy, and protectiveness. Both young women feel incredibly lonely, and indeed they are alone even when they’re surrounded by people who want to include them.
Adelina and Cadence have deep literal and psychological wounds and are haunted by ghosts of the past. They make bad decisions, and bad things happen to those they love. As I read The Young Elites, which drips with descriptions of Adelina’s dark and difficult character, I wondered how she would redeem herself. When I finished We Were Liars, I wondered if redemption was possible.
In the end, the biggest difference lies in the writing style. Lyrical and lovely, We Were Liars includes lines like, “There is not even a Scrabble word for how bad I feel.” Adelina’s emotions may be complex, but their expression generally isn’t: “I am tired of being used, hurt, and cast aside. It is my turn to use. My turn to hurt.” I predict that Lu’s book will make more money than Lockhart’s, especially if the rest of the series lives up to the intriguing characters and plot introduced in the first book. But Lockhart’s novel still haunts me months after I initially read it.
Winner: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart