“We Were Liars” and “Hamlet”

My daughter is an eclectic and adventurous reader. She offers me recommendations for books of all sorts: children’s picture books, young adult (YA) novels, fantasy, literary fiction and even an occasional non-fiction book.

I’m glad I followed her recommendation to give John Green a try and I loved “The Fault in Our Stars,” which was later made into a successful film. So I didn’t hesitate to try another recommended YA novel, “We Were Liars,” by E. Lockhart.

The style changed partway through, I suppose to reflect the change in the narrator of the story after she suffers amnesia from a traumatic incident. But what I liked most about the writing in the first third of the book was the way the narrator described her emotions and physical responses to “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” to quote “Hamlet.”

“Hamlet” came to my mind because the writer’s innovative and creative ways of describing teenage emotion took me back to my teenage years, when I was such a failure at self-expression that I borrowed words from another, more articulate person: Shakespeare. His words for Hamlet became a second language for me.

Hamlet, emoting

Hamlet, emoting

I then described myself as the world’s foremost teenage authority on “Hamlet.” I was introduced to the play at 13 when my grandmother took me to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. After that, I read and re-read “Hamlet” and memorized all his soliloquies. When I was faced with frustrations and agonies typical of a teenage life, I turned to Hamlet’s words to express my feelings.

In “We Were Liars,” the teenage girl who is the narrator used words and images that brought back the familiar words of Hamlet’s soliloquies. She reacts to the death of her grandmother this way:

My head and shoulders melted first, followed by my hips and knees. Before long I was a puddle, soaking into the pretty cotton prints. I drenched the quilt she never finished, rusted the metal parts of her sewing machine. I was pure liquid loss, then, for an hour or two.

That passage and similar ones, where she describes the transformation of her physical body into puddles of



tears or blood, made me think of Hamlet’s words.

O, that this too too solid flesh would melt, thaw and resolve itself into a dew! Or that the Everlasting had not fixed his canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God! God! How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world!

According to Shakespeare, Hamlet was no teenager, but a 30-year-old man. Still, emotion-filled words like these resonated for me during my difficult teenage years when I failed to find the words to adequately express my wish to just melt, thaw and resolve myself into a dew.

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