Book Review: Lies We Tell Ourselves

Lies We Tell Ourselves
Published By: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: September 30, 2014
Page Count: 304
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via NetGalley
Audience: Young Adult - Historical Fiction

I went in expecting this to be another heart wrenching story about integration - and it was - but it is so much more. Robin Talley not only tackles history and race conflict, but she also chooses to have her main characters questioning their sexual orientation. This was a huge undertaking for one book and presented a side of integration that I had never considered. 

The story is told from two perspectives. The narration begins with Sarah as she becomes one of the first African American students to integrate an all white high school in small town Virginia. Reading her portions was difficult and heartbreaking. I cannot imagine a time when people were treated so differently based on the color of their skin. Sadly, racism hasn't been eradicated and still thrives in places throughout the world. One only has to turn on the news to see a race or ethnic group being persecuted. One would think that our society would have learned by now that we need to embrace diversity rather than fight against it. The second narrator, Linda, is a white student at the high school and she is a staunch segregationist. She claims that it's part of the Southern culture to abide by separate but equal. These two girls are worlds apart, but they find that they have more in common than they ever imagined when a teacher forces them to work together on a French project. 

First and foremost, this is a novel about finding your place in the world. Both girls realize that who they are "supposed" to be isn't who they are. Each of them must work through her issues about race and longing to figure out the next step in the course of their lives. While I do realize that both issues are important and relevant, I did find that the issues driving this novel became overwhelming at times. There are small blips of happy moments, but this is not a happy time period or happy circumstances for Sarah and Linda. As a result, I had to put this one down for breaks frequently. My heart and mind could only handle so much at a time. The issues while important became a heavy burden and reduced my enjoyment of the novel.

Lies We Tell Ourselves is a crucial novel that sheds light on a different aspect of the Civil Rights Movement. I do caution readers to prepare themselves for the realities of the 1950's and 1960's before embarking on this reading journey. Reading this one requires work and effort on the part of the reader - this is not a leisurely read that will give you the warm fuzzies. It will force you to think about diversity and the cruelty of the human spirit. I can only hope this will serve as a beacon to guide people to a better world where discrimination and racism cease to exist.

One Last Gripe: I was frustrated by most of the adults in this novel - on both sides of the issue. They often focused on their own agendas and not their childrens' well being.

Favorite Thing About This Book: I liked getting a different view of a familiar history.

First Sentence: We've all walked past Jefferson a thousand times before, but this will be the first time any of us steps inside.

Favorite Character: Sarah

Least Favorite Character: Each character that had hate in their heart

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.


  1. I have been hearing so much about this book
    GREAT review, deary
    Your reader,
    Soma R

  2. Great review. I can no doubt imagine this story will be frustrating at times. It's true, even in people I know, that adults/parents seem to put their own interests ahead of their kids' best interests. Sad.

  3. I find this book more compelling after reading your thoughts here. I am sorry your experience with this novel was so harrowing, but the author;s ambition is inspiring first of all in the gravity and urgent social importance of the themes. What's more impressive is what you tell me aboout the interrelation of these themes -- it sounds like a messy, human story that will engage me and inspire new ideas. I don't find tragic material saddening in fiction; rather, I find it always gets me away from any tendency to become preoccupied with or overestimate the severity of any personal difficulties. I'd rather focus on someone else facing a social problem that inspires me to action and about which fresh perspective is always a gain. That is, thinking about these issues through this fictional lens is part of an ongoing process to improve myself as a a citizen, activist and fully human being.

    Thanks for your useful insights! Cheers, Kara S


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