Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Title: Lies We Tell Ourselves
Author: Robin Talley
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release Date: September 30, 2014
Source: BEA

Summary from Goodreads:
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.


I knew I had to read The Lies We Tell Ourselves as soon as I heard about it at BEA. Not only am I a huge fan of Historical Fiction but I love to read thought-provoking novels, such as this one, from time to time. Before this book, I have never read one with a focus on racial segregation and I wanted this new experience.

Sarah is one of a small group of African American students to be the first to attend and graduate from an all-white school. The horrors that she and her friends had to face every day for the right to a fair education – the physical and emotional harassment, bullying and abuse - were a testament to the evil that people are capable of and the danger of crowds, misconceptions, and ignorance. The bravery, determination and self-control that they showed was really moving. I don’t think I would have been capable of the same strength.

Meanwhile, Linda is a Caucasian girl well-known and well-liked at that school. Her father is one of the strongest opponents of integration and so she has been raised to echo those same beliefs. But when she is forced to work on a school project with Sarah, she starts to question everything she was taught. But fear of her father’s wrath slows her progress while she starts to think for herself and form her own opinions.

What the synopsis alludes to but doesn’t quite call out is that Linda and Sarah start to develop feelings for each other. Their relationship, which presented its own challenges, was a big focus of this book, almost equal to or greater than the focus on school integration. And while this will add to the experience for some, it detracted from the experience for me. Their complicated relationship was a story worth telling but I feel like the book lost some of its impact by being divided into two big issues because neither one was given enough attention. I was expecting a compelling novel about the fight for racial equality and I finished with a story about two girls of different races growing to accept that they liked each other as more than just friends in a time when mixed-race relationships were unacceptable and worse, same-sex relationships were considered sinful and evil. There is nothing wrong with this story, it just wasn’t the one I wanted more.

But not to be misunderstood, this is still a really good book that should be read. Everything that Robin Talley wrote is worth reading and thinking long and hard about. We are capable of some truly horrible and damaging things as human beings and we are still guilty for many of these same thoughts and behaviors today just in a different way. Our present might not be AS incriminating as our past but we still bully and harm people who are different than us and deny basic rights, like love, to people of our choosing. It is really quite sad.

So yes, I recommend you read this novel and listen to what Robin Talley is trying to tell us because we all need to hear it.
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