ARC Book Review: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Posted September 17, 2014 by Debby in Book Reviews

ARC Book Review: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin TalleyLies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
Published by Harlequin TEEN on September 30th, 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: Gifted

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.

4 Stars

Lies We Tell Ourselves is easily one of the most buzzed about books of 2014 and for good reason. This book is so incredibly important. It’s a book about an icky time in our history, but it’s still so relevant to societal issues going on today. It’s a well-written, well-researched debut that should be on everyone’s list.

Lies We Tell Ourselves tells the story of Sarah, an African American high school senior, and Linda, her new white classmate, in the period of desegregation. Their school district is fiercely against integration and went so far as to close the schools for half the year to oppose the court’s rulings. The historical accuracy of the novel is astounding. I must admit I didn’t know that much about the desegregation time period – something that I’m actually extremely angry about right now. Sarah and 9 other African American teens end up enrolling in the “white” school and are brutally tormented each and every day. They are constantly harassed and yelled at with slurs, they get spitballs and paper balls thrown at them, they get ink spilled on their clothes, pencils drilled into their backs until their clothes are torn up, and worse. They are, simply put, not welcome there.

The sort of bullying that all the integrated students face is extremely tough to swallow. Though, even worse is the way the adults and teachers turn a blind eye to it – or even justify the behavior of their children. It really made me think. It was sort of hard for me to imagine that this kind of thing happened, but I know it did. I just don’t think about it. And I should. Everyone should. Though racial inequality is far less an issue today than it was back then and we have made great strides since the 50’s, our society still has plenty of discrimination and white privilege. This book raises meaningful points and discussions and is generally all around excellent. Albeit painful. I genuinely felt fear at times for how bad the bullying would get.

Linda is the daughter of one of the most prominent newspapermen and has been filled with his hate-filled propaganda since birth. A lot of the novel deals with Linda coming to terms with what she believed to be true all her life. It’s extremely realistic and heartbreaking – the prejudices that have been ingrained in her and how hard it is to let go of that. Her father’s been shouting his hate-speech for ages, and he’s well-respected within the white community. However the logic in his arguments just cannot seem to hold up when she finally starts thinking for herself. It’s an in-depth take on discrimination that is at times uncomfortable but still very understandable. Linda’s character growth arc is amazing, and I loved the depth to her character.

Sarah faces her own struggles as well, because it wasn’t exactly her own decision to enroll in the white school. Her parents are fervent members of the NAACP, and they want to do all they can to support the movement – knowing that it would be tough for themselves and their children, but that participating is the only way to make sure the future generations would have any chance at equality. Sarah is torn between believing in the cause and its inherent self-sacrifice and being able to determine her own future and ensure her own (and her sister’s) safety. To top it all off, she feels an attraction to Linda that she believes is unnatural and sinful. She faces so many difficulties that it’s impossible not to feel immense sympathy for her.

What keeps this book from really reaching all time favorite status for me, however, is unfortunately the romance. I just didn’t really feel the ship – which makes me incredibly sad, because I’m all for more lady loving in books – and I think I would have preferred the book with no romance at all. The thing is, I think that the way the book covers the grudging friendship between Sarah and Linda is pretty awesome. Linda is so deluded and hateful at first, and Sarah is there (somewhat) patiently challenging her beliefs until Linda realizes she’s repeating other peoples’ thoughts, which don’t make much logical sense. But by actually making it a romance, it adds the LGBT element that should be awesome in making the book more diverse, but ultimately kind of gets shoved in the background. The story, to me, is about discrimination, finding your own beliefs, and self-sacrifice – with a strong focus on racism. And I loved that – it was super powerful. But adding the LGBT element kind of made Lies We Tell Ourselves try to do too much, and the romance, I felt, got the short end of the stick. There wasn’t enough room or context to really develop it.

Summing Up:

“Powerful” is the word that comes to mind when trying to describe Lies We Tell Ourselves. This is an important story not to be overlooked. And though it deals with a part of our history that we would like to forget and gloss over, the way this book challenges you to think about your own privileges and prejudices is meaningful and relevant to society today.

GIF it to me straight!


Recommended To:

I believe this should be required reading. Just saying.

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2 responses to “ARC Book Review: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

  1. I agree 100% with your recommendation, required reading for sure!
    This is an issue that is so important and that needs to be put out there for all of us to think about.
    I loved this book even if I had a really hard time reading the first part when Sarah and the rest went into the school, it shot my anxiety through the roof experiencing all that second hand on a book, so it made me think about how it must have felt… Plenty of food for thought in this book!