Book Review: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

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Synopsis: 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.

Why I Chose This Book: With the tension going on in our country, it’s more important than ever to listen to perspectives other than our own and really examine our prejudices.

First Impressions: I love this cover so much. It’s sharp, clean, and shows almost literally what a target Sarah became in the school. In a sea of white faces, Sarah stands out, which could not be more relevant to the content.

What I Liked: Almost everything! The stories told in this book are different than mine both in race and sexual orientation, and it helped me see how terrifying it must have been to be alive in this time period when you vary from what is accepted.

You know how everyone says if they were in pivotal moments of history, they would have done the right thing, but there’s no way to really know. Today, similar things are happening. Not to the same degree, but it looks like we’re on that path. There was a moment, when Sarah describes how there are no white people helping them, standing up for them, or supporting them. And I saw that I would be on the right side of history. That felt like such a relief, and I’ll be grateful to this book for that.

One of the most surprising things about this book was the romantic story line. It doesn’t really mention it in the online synopsis, which is what I’d read before ordering the book. But the description on the back cover talks about it more explicitly, which I love. I really loved this perspective, and seeing a queer WOC as a lead character who is also incredibly smart, loving, kind, and strong was amazing. This book has great representation.

It was also incredibly well written. I made several notes in the margins and underlined quotes all over it.

What I Didn’t Like: The worst thing about this book was how easy it was to slip into Linda’s racist mindset while reading her perspective. When I went back to reality after reading for a while, I would randomly have racist thoughts. Thoughts I have never believed in the slightest! I had never understood how people who say, think, and do racist things can think they are correct, but this book showed me how effortless it is to subscribe to that way of thinking. I hated that realization, and I hate that now I can understand even a fraction of that mindset.

I also didn’t realize that Robin Talley is a white woman, and I’m not sure how I feel about a white woman writing the black perspective here. I’m an advocate of lifting up the voices of those who belong to the culture instead of telling them how it is, so I’m iffy on this. It’s something I need to discuss so I can figure out how I feel.

Ratings and Recommendations: Good for fans of historical fiction, current events, issue books, and diverse books.

2. Loved It

Final Thoughts: This is a book that everyone should read right now. We need to see what our future will be if we don’t get off this path of hate and ignorance. I cannot stress enough how doomed we are to repeat history if we don’t learn our lesson.

Sound off in the comments: What did you think of this book? Have you read something similar? What is your stance on Talley being white and writing such a huge part of black history? Let me know!

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