Review: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

October 24, 2014 / 1 Comment / Review, Uncategorized

Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Source/Format: Rachel from Hello, Chelly gave me this ARC that she picked up at BEA14! (thanks, Rachel!)
Publication date: September 30th 2014
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Buy it: | Indiebound | B&N | The Book DepositoryAmazon 

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.


Lies We Tell Ourselves is an illuminating look into integration of black kids into segregated white schools in 1959 in the US. It definitely skewed towards the liberal view of things, but for the most part, the discussion is balanced because of the dual narratives of Sarah, the black girl, and Linda, the white girl. 

I don’t think I need to describe how awful the situation is in this book. What happens to Sarah and her trail-blazing black friends is horrific and upsetting. What’s scary about the bullying and extremism is that it’s an everyday thing for them. They had to learn to live with the whispers, the spitballs, the terror, and in some cases, the physical abuse. 

Where the book shines, though, is in looking at gay teens and how to deal with something that was so prohibited at the time. The relationship between Sarah and Linda felt more authentic than the rest of the book – the desire for one another with the backdrop of the late 50s and the idea of the suburban housewife and getting married young looming made the relationship appropriately angsty. The strengths of the characters really worked there, and Talley writes clearly and boldly about their feelings for one another. 

I also liked that the book allowed the teenagers to have teenage views – for Linda, a major part of her annoyance with integration is simply because it’s “ruining her senior year.” I can imagine that that might be how the majority of teenagers feel in a bad situation that’s getting worse. Sure, there are probably kids with extreme views – but for the most part, it seemed like most of the kids just saw integration as a complete inconvenience that put the focus solely on the issue and not on, say, prom. 

For me, Lies We Tell Ourselves was a little too issues-driven to be a book that you sink into. I never got “the feels” because the book felt more about what the characters stood for than who they actually were. The characterizations of Linda and Sarah were thin, and I think the writing contributed to that – the characters had very little subtlety. Every thought they had was exactly what they were thinking. Because of that, I never fully connected with either Sarah or Linda.

Nevertheless, it’s impossible to ignore the importance of this issue and the amount of research and thought Robin Talley put into this book. Small details, like the meetings that the students had with the NAACP every week, and the descriptions of Sarah’s old classroom leant credulity to the book and gave me a glimpse of the 50s and how heroic those first integrationists were. 

The Final Word: 

Lies We Tell Ourselves is a hard read, and one that doesn’t completely work in marrying story with history, but it’s one that will get you thinking. Its strengths lie in its portrayal of gay teens and its descriptions of situations that integrationists experienced, and I would definitely recommend it for a classroom. I think it would be a great way for teachers to discuss discrimination and how the US has gotten to where it is – and how much farther the country (and many other countries) needs to go for equality.

Have you read LIES WE TELL OURSELVES? If not, are you interested in reading it? Are you into issues-driven books? What about LGBTQ reads? Do you have any good ones to recommend to me? Let me know in the comments!

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