The Liars

contains alcoholism, death, abuse and drug abuse
The Liars
Written by Jennifer Mathieu
Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Family
336 Pages
Published 10th September 2019
Thanks to Hachette Australia
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★★★★
How can one family have so many secrets?

It's the summer of 1986. Joaquin and Elena, two teenage siblings live in a toxic environment with their alcoholic mother on an island off the Texas Gulf Coast.

Elena falls for a new boy who has just arrived from California. Joaquin must wrestle with his decision to stay on Mariposa Island to protect his sister or flee from his mother's abuse.

As both teenagers struggle to figure out who they are and want to be, they are caught in a web of family dysfunction and secrets from their mother's past.

Can fierce love save them, or will their truth tear them apart?
During the nineteen eighties, Mariposa Island is a summer playground for the wealthy and frivolous, for siblings Joaquin and Elena Finney, it's home. Under the vigilant and suspicious scrutiny of their mother, Joaquin is allowed to socialise with friends without a curfew, Elena is only given permission to leave the house accompanied by Joaquin and to work minding children for a wealthy family on the island that visits during summer each year. Her Mami warning Elena of menacing boys who will leave her in ruins. Elena is expected to tend to their small, ramshackle home while her alcoholic mother seethes about her own life, the breakdown of her marriage and her life as a pampered debutante in Havana during the rise of the Communist Party and Fidel Castro.

Caridad de la Guardia was the only child of attentive parents, wealthy socialites of Havana, cherished by her parents, treasured by her housemaid and revered by her island community. As a young woman, Caridad was removed from her home and sent to the United States under the guise of an education during the Cuban Revolution. Fostered by an American family, Caridad despised being abandoned by her parents and learning to communicate in English. Her only means of escapism was to fall in love with an American boy and create a life similar to her opulent lifestyle in Havana. Now living on the Island, Caridad seeks companionship in alcohol and reminding her children of their own father's abandonment.

Mariposa Island thrives on secrets and untruths, of tangled lives and manipulation. Told from the perspectives of Caridad as a child living in Havana and siblings Elena and Joaquin, presently residents of the island, the narrative explores family and tangled lives of deception.

Now a parent with two children on the pinnacle of adulthood, Caridad's nonlinear narrative fluctuates between carefree child and the hostile, vitriolic woman she's become. An alcoholic and an abuser. Her children are a reminder of the life she believes she was cruelly denied, her parents sending her to the United States to escape the Cuban Revolution and unbeknown to Caridad, saving her life. She's hostile towards her foster parents, an American family who care for Caridad despite her growing resentment.

Joaquin and Elena have never known their father, only the distant memory of the man their mother continuously reiterates that abandoned his young family. Elena is a sheltered young woman, suffocating under the judgemental scrutiny of her mother and a peacekeeper, simmering arguments between Joaquin and their mother while yearning for her mother's approval. Joaquin is independent and often challenges their mother, confronting her about her alcoholism and the animosity she holds for her children. Although siblings, Elena and Joaquin live parallel lives. Joaquin is employed in a local family restaurant and Elena is a casual nanny for the Callahan family each summer and her only means of escape from her mother's tyranny. Joaquin is the preferable Finney sibling and although he despises his mother, he's fond of Elena and encourages her to defend herself.

Elena begins sneaking out during her mother's drunken unconsciousness to see her boyfriend, a nineteen year old staying in town for the summer. Manipulated and exploited by an older, experienced man, Elena has become reckless and abandons her best friend. When Elena's and Caridad's lies begin to unravel, it becomes apparent that Joaquin's survival depends on escaping the island. No longer able to live with the lies and deception. He's suffocating.

I was captivated by the intensity of the narrative and their tangled deception. Elena was an unreliable narrator, her untruths had become her reality and I was swept along by her dishonesty. I believed her. Caridad's alcoholism to escape her reality is distressing, disregarding her own children while reminiscing about her life in Havana and regretting the life she's been saddled with. Lies layered upon untruths and manipulation, it was a toxic and vicious cycle that was destroying Elena's, Caridad's and Joaquin's lives.

Jennifer Mathieu is a remarkable storyteller, I was captivated by the Finney family and their entwined deception and betrayal. To put it bluntly, they're fucked, they'll fuck you up and you'll enjoy every fucking moment. 

10 comments

  1. This book was odd for me. I was so absorbed in the story, while still finding it so profoundly sad. So few authors could keep me reading such a story, but as you said, Mathieu is a fantastic storyteller.

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    1. I'm not entirely sure what I expected with this one but Jennifer Mathieu is an incredible author and I was captivated from the first chapter. What surprised me is how gullible I was, I actually believed the lies and I'm a suspicious reader who usually squints at most characters.

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  2. LOL I love how you sum it all up at the end, Kelly! :) This one sounds so interesting and intense. And I love that it’s set in the 80’s.

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    1. It definitely has those eighties summer vibes going on. Shit it was intense though, I love an unreliable narrator and this one had me completely hooked!

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  3. Fantastic review Kelly. But I think this one would just piss me off and I'd want to jump through the pages and strangle Caridad.

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    1. She's such a complex character Sarah. I could understand why she wanted to live within her childhood moments, as a adult and although she has her children, she didn't feel as though she had anything worth being sober for. She was truly horrible.

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  4. Oh my Kelly, everything about this book just fabulous -- and these characters are volatile, emotional and make for a wonderful read -- and review!

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    1. Thanks Verushka, it's unreliable and volatile and so incredibly messy. It's impossible to put down, like being a fly on the wall in their messed up lives.

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  5. I've only read Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu but I absolutely loved it.
    This book sounds so compelling, and si intriguing.
    Your thoughts are selling this book for me even more, and make me want to pick up my copy sooner rather than later.
    That last line is absolutely brilliant, too!
    Can't wait to read this one!

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    1. I think you'll really enjoy how messy their family is Star, it's such a page turner, impossible to put down! Can't wait to see what you think of it.

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