Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
This review will contain spoilers, as usual. I’ve tried my best to make this as accurate as possible, but if I’ve said something wrong in any way, please let me know.
I got this out of the library for the second time to re-read and review, because it’s worth getting out of bed for. It’s even worth going outside for. And that’s something I don’t do often.
Before I begin, I want to mention how this book won the 2016 Carnegie Medal. Which automatically means it’s great. And once I read it, it proved that the ongoing trend of quality and award winners hasn’t been broken yet.
Lies We Tell Ourselves is set in 1959, in the middle of America, at the same time as the battle for civil rights. As someone that’s interested in history, I loved knowing all the historical context behind the setting of this story. It gives the novel another layer, as you know that it’s just a little sliver of a tale in the middle of a major historical event that people learn about in depth for GCSE coursework.
But this story doesn’t dismiss the battles going on, in fact it uses them as an integral part of the story. One of the main characters, Sarah, is a black girl becoming one of the first students at a previously all white high school. The school itself – Jefferson High – is completely fictitious, but as Talley explains on her website, the inspiration for it comes from the Norfolk 17 (click the link for more information, I hadn’t heard about them before I read this book so I’m hardly qualified to explain them to you myself).
The book centres around Sarah, along with a segregationist’s daughter Linda. At least to begin with, these two are at odds with one another. Linda has lived all her life in an all-white environment, and she’s been brought up to look down on them. However, they start to develop a less hostile relationship as they realise their feelings for one another. Of course, due to the simultaneously homophobic and racist situations at the time, these feelings are mostly quashed. At least until they end up kissing each other (I squeed at this part, even though things aren’t easy from then on).
That’s the main reason why this book is so great – it’s realistic, like most of the LGBT+ books that I’ve reviewed so far. Sarah is even more hostile to Linda after the kiss, and they’re both even more reluctant to express their feelings.
There’s also a significant undertone of sadness, especially after Sarah’s friend Chuck is assaulted and killed, whilst at the school. It comes just at the right time, to remind you that this story is less about the romance between two girls, and more about the significance that bridging the gaps that society makes for us.
Each chapter title begins with either a Truth, or a Lie. These all remind you of the extraordinary bravery that you would have to face as a young black student, going to a previously all white school for the first time. It’s impossible to read this with a blank face. You have to feel something for all the characters, no matter who they are.
Overall, again, 5 stars, wholeheartedly. I tend to give a lot of 5 star reviews…
Follow Robin Talley on Twitter @MiraInk and @robin_talley