I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
Also by this author: What We Left Behind
Published by Harlequin on October 1st 2014
Genres: African American, Historical, People & Places, United States, Young Adult
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In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever. Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily. Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town's most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept "separate but equal." Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another. Boldly realistic and emotionally compelling, Lies We Tell Ourselves is a brave and stunning novel about finding truth amid the lies, and finding your voice even when others are determined to silence it.
I feel like I saved the best for last when it came to my May reading. I mean, honestly, I did read a lot of books in May and even a few that blew my mind – Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley stands out among the crowd of books I’ve read. First, despite being under extreme stress due to a malfunctioning ATM, I found that Lies We Tell Ourselves held my attention. This is the sort of book that breaks my heart and then fixes it. It’s the kind of book that I don’t come across every day – one where I feel profoundly impacted by what I read. In May I did read a few books that were very impactful and chief among them is Talley’s debut.
Lies We Tell Ourselves is about integration. I know, I know, Civil Rights Era is a beaten to death theme. Talley though puts a unique spin on the theme and on the story. Alternating between the point of view of Sarah Dunbar, an African American girl, and Linda Hairston, a White girl, Lies We Tell Ourselves is about what happens when Brown Vs. Board Of Education is put into action at the previous all white high school, Jefferson High. Ugh, if you want a book that’s going to piss you off and make you feel anxiety and on edge, this is the book for you. For real, I read this book with mostly a grimace. There’s some things that happen to Sarah and her friends that are enough to turn your stomach. Add in the double privilege whammy of Sarah being a lesbian with a crush/hate for Linda and wow, there’s a lot to unpack in this book.
Sarah is a fountain of strength. This girl. She was living in Chicago before her parents decided to move the family south so that they could join the Cause. At first, Sarah goes to the all Black school, Johns, but because her family was part of a lawsuit to attend Jefferson, she’s about to be among the first teenagers integrating into Jefferson High. What can I say? I thought that Talley had written Sarah with a really compelling voice. As I read the book I found myself rooting for her. I wanted her to overcome, like that song, ‘We Shall Overcome’. I wanted her to show those white people that she has a right there. And then there were moments where I was like why is she so stubborn, her life would be so much easier otherwise. BUT THEN this book has the subtle way of calling me out on my privilege. Like, I would read things and think ughhhh why is this so hard why fight, and then the book would be like THIS IS WHY YA PRIVILEGED IDIOT. I love when that happens,friends. Also, I just want to say that I loved reading about Sarah’s struggles with being gay. This is a time where that’s a double whammy and she’s got a major uphill battle. Luckily, she’s strong and able to handle it.
Okay, no lie, Linda is a pain in the ass at first. When we start off with Lies We Tell Ourselves, she is so prejudiced. Granted, she’s echoing things that she shares from her father who is a prominent newspaperman who is constantly writing about uppity Black people because he’s douche. Anyways, it is understandable that Linda is ignorant. Anyways, when a class project pairs her off with Sarah, she begins to realize that maybe her dad is wrong. Of course, she falls into the exceptionalism trap at first but luckily the book takes us past that. I think that while Sarah is strong and Linda is stubborn, I liked that Linda eventually changes her mind and she becomes courageous too. She’s got struggles like Sarah, her home life is not perfect is what I am saying. Linda really has self discovery and growth that go on and I was a fan.
Talley’s debut pulses with longing. I mean, given that it’s the late 1950s and segregation is bad enough – add being gay on top of that. It’s hard out here for a girl, I guess. Throughout the book we see the two main characters’ feelings change for each other. We see them long for each other but are unable to act upon it for multiple reasons. Like, not just the black white thing, but also being queer. That definitely is complicated. So, yeah, longing throughout the chapters. For a book about integration, I thought that Talley really added a unique spin to it and made it a story that I’ll want to pass around to people. Furthermore, Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley is wonderfully written. It is fast paced and heartbreaking, yet there’s a grace within the pages too. If you haven’t read this book yet, what could you possibly be waiting for?