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Lies We Tell Ourselves

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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.

304 pages, ebook

First published September 30, 2014

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About the author

Robin Talley

12 books1,469 followers
I live in Washington, D.C., with my wife, our baby daughter, an antisocial cat and a goofy hound dog. Whenever the baby's sleeping, I'm probably busy writing young adult fiction about queer characters, reading books, and having in-depth conversations with friends and family about things like whether Jasmine's character motivation was sufficiently established in Aladdin.

My website is at http://www.robintalley.com, and I'm on Twitter and Tumblr.

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Profile Image for Maxine (Booklover Catlady).
1,286 reviews1,257 followers
December 23, 2021
This is one of those absolutely must read books.

** I’ve just re-read this incredible book as part of my journey of reading more about the painful differences in history and today of how black and white people are not equal. This book is very timely now in 2021. **

I will never, ever forget this book. I will ensure my teens read it. Every now and then a book comes along that is important, not just a book that is enjoyable, but significant and thought provoking. Lies We Tell Ourselves is one of these books. This powerful and emotive novel created a whirlpool of emotion in me, it stunned me, angered me, moved me and made me think and feel on a whole new level. This is one of those books that should be in EVERY high school curriculum, up there with books like To Kill a Mockingbird.

It's 1959.

The battle for civil rights is raging.

And it's Sarah Dunbar's first day of school, as one of the first black students at the previously all-white Jefferson High.

No one wants Sarah there.

Not the Governor.

Not the teachers.

And certainly not the students – especially Linda Hairston, daughter of the town’s most ardent segregationist.

Sarah and Linda have every reason to despise each other. But as a school project forces them to spend time together, the less their differences seem to matter. And Sarah and Linda start to feel something they've never felt before. Something they're both determined ignore.

Because its one thing to stand up to an unjust world – but another to be terrified of what’s in your own heart.


Segregation has had it's stronghold across the USA, separate schools, bathrooms, transport, the lot. Thanks to the fight of campaigners a law was passed that said black students had as much right to be in white schools as the white students. These were terrible, turbulent and quite shameful times in human history. I read this book knowing it was based around similar real situations that occurred and I was angry at the human race, angry at the racists and the bigots, small minded people. I was just bloody angry. See? Told you it stirs things up.

Sarah and a few other students bravely enter the doors of the local white high school. The bullying and things they encounter made me sick to my stomach, I was horrifed. Called names like coon, jungle boy, nigger by HUNDREDS of students, spat on, beaten, teased, subjected to objects being thrown across the classroom at them, and the teachers? Well apparently they have selective sight and hearing. This was a very painful and difficult journey for these kids. I would not want to be one of them, but they were making history, setting the precedent for more black kids to be accepted in white schools, they did not know it at the time but these kids led the way.
The white people are swarming us from all sides now. It's as bad as it was this morning. No. It's worse. This morning the white people just looked furious. Now they look like killers. "Get the niggers!" A chant starts up. "Get the niggers! Get the niggers! Get them!"

Imagine the emotional and mental torment you go through, knowing the WHOLE SCHOOL hates you because of the colour of your skin, that you are struggling to learn because you have been placed in remedial classes, because the teachers have assumed you are stupid, even though you took advance classes at your old school. You were not an individual, you did not have a name, kids moved away to other seats in the room when you sat down, nobody wanted you near at lunch. Nobody wants you there at all. The parents of these kids are just as bad,some of them might as well have donned the white robes of the Ku Klux Klan. Bloody disgraceful stuff.

The book is told from the point of view of Sarah, one of the black teenagers that bravely faces being one of the first black students at an all-white high school and Linda, the daughter of one of the most outspoken and hate-filled campaigners against the integration movement. Linda is white, Sarah is black. Sarah can't understand feelings she has for Linda when they are thrown together to study a project, and Linda?, well she can't understand what she is feeling either, this is a BLACK girl, that she's meant to hate, and she's a girl, she's been taught that it is right to hate black skin, she thought if she ever touched a black person their skin would be rough and scaly. She brushes Sarah's arm and is amazed at how soft her brown skin is.

Not only are these girls dealing with racism at it's most extreme but they are both battling feelings of being "sinful" - remember these were times when the Southern Baptist Church had a hold on your entire life! Feelings of being "wrong" - holy moly, I can't imagine how hard that was for either of them. This is their story, and it's so much more.
I know what's wrong with me. I've known for years. I thought if I ignored it, it would go away. I should've known that's not how the Devil works. Sin doesn't go away simply because you wish it to.

This is a powerfully moving book, from start to finish it will educate you and no doubt stir up a whirlwind of thoughts and feelings. It's a spectacularly written book, we hear the voices of Sarah and Linda, essentially representing opposing sides as they try to reconcile through what they are supposed to do versus what they feel like doing (and being). These girls are heroines in my mind, strong women, I could not imagine the fear and confusion they felt, although the book does a darn good job of describing it.

Read it. Tell me what you think. Share it with others. Read it in your book clubs. A book that will stay with me for a very long time, a book that made me aware of a time in history that I am now wanting to learn more about. A book that made me ashamed watching human beings do such awful things to other human beings. Animals. Awful.

BUT the story has a purpose and you have got to stay with it to the end to see what choices are made by not only Sarah and Linda but the entire community. Be part of the journey, ride the waves of the book until the very end. Share the highs and feel the sorrow of the lows. Trust me, this is one very unforgettable novel.

I received a copy of this book thanks to the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Profile Image for Journey.
301 reviews54 followers
January 3, 2015
oh boy... first off, the author did a lot of research, as she notes in the end, so props for that. and ruth, the little sister, is a fantastic character who has her own pov chapter at the very end and i loved that.

THAT SAID. this book happily marches into the "oppressed and oppressor fall in love" trope. Linda is RACIST. she may draw the line at physically assaulting the black students, but that doesn't make her any less racist. in order to make that relationship work then, for the reader, you've gotta be really good and make there be really strong reasons. and that just doesn't happen here. there's zero reason for Sarah to fall in love with Linda, other than the fact that apparently debate gets her hot and bothered and there'd be plenty of that in their relationship.

additionally, i'm uncomfortable with a white author using a black character's voice to assign motivations for desegregation or other black politics to black people. (basically, Sarah remarks A LOT that she doesn't matter and only The Movement TM does to her parents.) like the author, i'm a lesbian, so i can just imagine how *I* would feel if a straight person observed an intra-community disagreement, and then wrote a book where they had a lesbian character spout off the straight author's interpretation of it. nahhhhhh.
Profile Image for Giselle.
990 reviews6,363 followers
September 30, 2014
There are some books you read for pure entertainment, and others, like Lies We Tell Ourselves, end up being much more than that. This novel tells an important story tied to our own history. One not too far in the past. One that is still a factor in our present, just with an altered face. It's hard to read at times, but it's also full of hope, strength and courage.

Not only is this an eye opening story, but it's one narrated with the help of two wildly compelling teenage voices. The year is 1959, and Sarah is one of the first black students to attend a school that used to be all-white. This integration is not wanted by any of these white kids nor their parents, so you can only imagine the violent battle that Sarah is about to step into. From the beginning, you know that this is not going to be an easy, lighthearted read. You fall into Sarah's shoes from the very start. You endure the taunts, the insults, the shouts, the abuse, the fear, all along with her. I was in a constant state of horror and shock from what these kids were doing to her. Yet, I was never doubting this had actually happened in real life - which made it all the more disgusting. It's a hard truth from our past to swallow, even sadder knowing racism is still alive and rampant today. It might not have improved at all had it not been for people like Sarah, however. This has to be the most difficult time in her life, yet she remains impressively strong and determined to be part of a change for the future. I loved this about her. Of course, she has moments of weakness and despair - she's only human - but how she bounces back from these is what makes her admirable.

On the other side of the coin we've got Linda's perspective. A popular white girl who's powerful father is the voice of segregation. Even though she hates her father, she adopts his values and beliefs so that he doesn't see her true self. We see it, though. Soon enough, we start seeing the doubts and cracks in this persona of hers. While she's not very likeable at the start, I never blamed her. I blamed the society that conditioned her beliefs. she grows immensely as a character and as a person, and I came to admire her courage in the face of all this hate. The secondary characters are also very three dimensional and range from the bullies, the skeptics, to tons of family members. I loved Ruth and Judy the most. The former being Sarah's sister who shows great amounts of bravery herself. The latter being Linda's friend who know what it's like to live with a mark. Lucky for her, hers can be hidden, but it makes her understand what it's like to be different, to have to hide and be ashamed of who you really are (which relates to the LGBT topic).

Aside from racism, there's also the topic of LGBT, which is not all that different in terms of societal acceptance in those days - and while we've made progress, is still not as accepted as it should be today. The plot is fairly predictable in itself. Even though it's not the kind of book where one should expect plot twists and shocking developments, I wouldn't have minded a bit more surprise. Something that would have really made this already fierce novel into an emotional force, something wholly poignant. I'm not saying it wasn't these things, it just wasn't to the degree that it could have been.

Lies We Tell Ourselves is a highly character driven novel, and one that I wish everyone - young and old - would read and pass along. It's powerful and eye opening, and after all the hatred and dread, it ends with a positive message that we can all use in life. A must read - no doubt about it!

--
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for review.

For more of my reviews, visit my blog at Xpresso Reads
Profile Image for Wesaun.
33 reviews
August 8, 2016
There will be no spoilers in this review. This book was good in terms of writing and being powerful, but as a black person I have to say I was really uncomfortable with a white person writing about racism. It isn't that the book wasn't compelling and well-written, because it was, but no matter how well-researched this book was...every time there was a slur word used, I couldn't look past the fact that it was a white person writing and publishing them and reading it was a real painful experience for me. I kept reading for the queerness of the story and the relationship and the power of the growth of the characters, but the intimate...wrongness...of a white person using these words and writing yet another story that doesn't belong to them and being lauded for it hit me like cold water being thrown over my head in the summer but instead of there being refreshment, there's just this uncomfortable, undeniable chill.

Especially reading the biography at the end of the book and seeing that Robin works in social justice programmes, I think that made it a bit worse. Why? Because she works to help advance the marginalised, she works so that their voices can be heard and though I see that Robin might have been attempting to use her voice to elevate the visibility of the importance and impact on segregation and american racism on black people in America...it is by using that voice that she perpetuates the notion that is held in society and has been held in the publishing industry for as long as it has existed that the white voice is more prominent than the Black and so it is the job of the white to advance the cause of black people so that they can be heard.

I feel it is better advancing progress as one who works in social justice activism to lift up the voices of those already there or getting there than it is to take it upon yourself to be that voice because it honestly isn't her place to be that voice. I don't think there's anything wrong with Robin Talley, or that she is a bad writer or author. I think she was trying to do a good, powerful thing for this community for people of colour, and I think in some ways she succeeded, and I think that her success is two-sided. It is meant to help, but ends up (perhaps accidentally) perpetuating the present issue of white voices being elevated over others.

Simply put, I think that the author is certainly talented and I am in no way attempting to dispute that or attack her as a person but I believe that this story was not hers to write in regards to race and that it hurts more than helps in the long run even if its only intent was for the good.
Profile Image for Sita.
38 reviews74 followers
November 20, 2016
WHY. KYUN. ENDUKU. POURQUOI.


WHY.


Writing diverse characters does not get you a cookie if your diverse characters are clearly there to educate the white person. There was no passage worth quoting, and no insight into race that hasn't already been articulated better by a black author/intellectual. Read them instead.

Profile Image for Kai Spellmeier.
Author 5 books13.5k followers
December 20, 2016
“Other people will try to decide things for you. They'll try to tell you who you are. Remember, no matter what they say, you're the only who really decides.”

I didn't know much about this book when I started reading, but I found title, cover and plot incredibly intruiging. Robin Talley did not disappoint:
While I wasn't always fond of the writing or the characters, I did really like it. It is not only informative, but shows the sad and bitter reality of segregation and racism. However, it touches more than just the topic of colour. We read about inequality in general - especially the few options women had if they did not want to marry right after graduating. We read about violence and abuse, about how hard it is to be homosexual in a time where nobody even dares to think this word.
I'm quite thankful for this novel. You can see that there was a lot of research and hard work behind it all, and the author wrote an amazing book.

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Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,083 reviews17.3k followers
December 17, 2017
this book is problematic as hell and for some reason 2014 me loved it

What do I even say? This is one of the most compelling stories I've read in my entire life. I could not put this down. I mean, look at the read dates - I read it in three hours. It was ridiculous.

The biggest plus to this book - besides character work, as we'll discuss in a minute - was the writing. Talley uses a device where she lists lies these two leads are telling themselves every few chapters, and it works perfectly. I'm almost willing to recommend this just for the stellar writing.

Historical fiction, for me, is generally an exercise in character work. If the characters aren't there, it's not going to work for me. Thank goodness this book delivers; Robin Talley crafts her two main characters with a lot of love and believability. Sarah, to me, was the most real of the two leads. I feel like I know her. She wants to fight against racism but she's also scared of what she needs to do.

Linda starts the book completely racist, but her character arc feels... super believable. And I'm actually going to give this it's own paragraph! I liked the focus on her good intentions not particularly mattering because she was still hurting people. I also appreciate that Lies We Tell Ourselves is one of the only books I've ever read that didn't shy away from talking about internalized prejudice. The acknowledgement that Linda's initial “Sarah is the best black person” attitude is still incredibly racist was so worthwhile and necessary. I think Talley does a really great job of being conscious of bias and prejudice in this story and subverting concerning tropes.

It bears mentioning, though, that I did see a few issues. I've seen it pointed out that the entire concept of a black woman and a formerly racist white woman falling in love shouldn't be written by a white author, which is a fair point. I think that if this were published in 2017, rather than 2014, the reception would be quite different. We've talked and learned a lot more about this trope now, and I don't think it's a trope I'm interested in. All that being said, I think... this was our standard for revolutionary back in 2014. Simply the fact that this book actively challenges racism and homophobia at the same time was enough then because we had nothing. It's not enough anymore. I'll leave you with that; if that's going to make you uncomfortable, skip this one.

VERDICT: Um. The trope is something we should definitely discuss and talk about. But I'm going to be honest, guys- I read this book in three hours flat and I cried through the last 100 pages. And I don't think that's something I can ignore, to be honest. Personally, I would recommend this, but I would also definitely recommend some more reading on the tropes involved. and critique!!

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Profile Image for Angélique (Angel).
320 reviews31 followers
November 14, 2016
"A white woman can write this story and it will be fine."

This was the lie I told myself when I picked up this book. This was the lie I told myself through the first few chapters of the book, but the more I read the less I could ignore what I knew to be true despite the positive reviews this book received on YA blogs: this was not Robin Talley's story to tell and the longer she tried to tell it, the more egregiously she failed at it.

Sarah, the Black protagonist, starts out as a likeable albeit slightly off character (in the way that Black characters are often slightly off when written by white people) but becomes more inauthentic as the narrative progresses because Talley spends most of the book acknowledging her Blackness only in so much as it can connect to Whiteness rather than allowing it to exist as an identity on its own. When she does try to showcase Sarah's Black identity disconnected from Whiteness, she does so through such a filtered White lens that it's almost unrecognizable.

On the other hand, Linda, the white love interest, has absolutely no redeeming qualities from start to finish. She is a pretty little racist whose daddy issues are constantly brought up to make us feel sorry enough for her that we don't completely abhor her as a racist and instead empathize with her as if her experiences were equivalent to the experiences of the Black characters who are physically assaulted and called the n-word the entire book. The fact that Talley thought that Linda deserved as much focus and forgiveness as she got, that by representing an ideal of white femininity Linda could attract the interests of a Black girl she was blatantly racist towards, and that any comparison could ever be made between Sarah's circumstances and Linda's is one of the best representations of the mess that is white feminism I have seen all year.

As if the white privilege and racism of this book weren't bad enough, this book also suffers from a disconnect between characterization and plotting. Instead of letting the characters influence the narrative and consequently creating authentic outcomes for all of them, Talley forces her characters into the plot she wanted so badly to see even though it makes no sense for them. The ending reads like a racist redemption lesbian fairytale rather than like a realistic ending for a well-to-do white girl raised as an unquestioning racist and a Black girl who spent half a school year being exposed to physically and emotionally violent racism near constantly.

All in all, this story is an utter waste. It does not serve Black girls who are attracted to other girls. It does not serve Black girls in predominantly-white environments trying to come to terms with all the implications of being attracted to a white girl. It does not serve Christian girls who are attracted to other girls. It doesn't even serve white people who want to understand Black experiences of integration better or who want to be better allies. This story only serves white privilege.

Instead of reading this, try something by Jacqueline Woodson, April Sinclair, Mildred D. Taylor, Zora Neale Hurston, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Alice Walker, or the scores of other Black women who have written books. Regardless of your race, doing so will serve you much better than this book ever could.

Profile Image for Belle.
503 reviews515 followers
May 12, 2017
4/5

“Other people will try to decide things for you, she says. They'll try to tell you who you are. Remember, no matter what they say, you're the only who really decides.”


This book hit me right in the emotions and I feel like this is a book I’ve been searching for forever. Lies We Tell Ourselves is set in Virginia, USA 1959 and largely focuses around the integration of POC into previously all-white schools.

It’s split between two polar-opposite characters—there was Sarah who was one of the ten African-American students to start at the all-white Jefferson High School and it follows the daily horrors she had to face as she tried to get the best education possible.

Sarah was hands down my favourite character in this entire book. She never saw how strong and brave she was, trudging through something she ultimately felt slightly forced into and always looking out for her younger sister. She was extremely bright and had a backbone of steel, her quick retorts were my favourite.

The other point of view was Linda, the daughter of one of the most vocal segregationist in their town. Linda is the epitome of a person who was raised to believe certain things her entire life, and when confronted with the facts, she is forced to form her own opinions.

I really enjoyed that this story tackled the question of how family/community/popular beliefs of the times can influence the beliefs of a person (particularly an adolescence), and what it takes to confront and change those notions.

This story was a beautiful blend of a realistic AND REAL story, mixed with a beautiful narrative of two young girls who don’t understand their place in this world. Linda and Sarah are both struggling with their sexuality and what that means in terms of the times they live in and what they’ve been taught by their religion.

I wouldn’t go as far as to even classify this as a romance story of any kind (as it all plays such a small part in the story) but more of a coming of age and discovering who you are kind of story.

There were so many different important issues explored in this book but they all were woven together so well, I honestly couldn’t put this book down. There was the most prominent issue of racism, but also domestic violence, sexuality and familial relationships.

The only issues I had with this story were the predictability of the last quarter of the book and the unrealistic ending. I think the ending was a little soft when compared to the beginning of the novel, there had been no real changes in the overall opinions of the community (obviously apart from Linda’s opinion) but everybody’s opinions seemed to have suddenly changed?

I’d have loved to read more about the details of the community’s sudden change of opinion if it did happen, because it seemed to me that a large part of the community was still for segregation and largely racist.
Profile Image for Ashley.
2,599 reviews1,664 followers
February 9, 2017
June 2016: Re-read this for my book club last month, forgot to update my read count. In case you were wondering, it was just as good as it was the first time I read it. Get on this shit, people.

September 2015: First, maybe don't even bother reading this review. Just go get the book somehow. Borrow it. Buy it. Get on your Kindle. Steal it. No, don't steal it. Get the book legally. Then read it. More people need to read this. I can't believe it's not more popular than it is.

No, wait. Scratch that. I can believe it. I can believe it because this book isn't one that lets you get away with your shit. It confronts you, makes you uncomfortable, and asks you to be okay with rethinking the world around you. People don't like to be challenged. People don't like to reevaluate. Changing the way you see the world also means changing how you see yourself.

This book gets pretty much everything right, and more about all that later, but the thing it gets the MOST right, I think, is the way that Sarah and Linda perfectly portray what it's like to realize for the first time that you have your own mind, that things you've believed your whole life might be foundationally wrong, and what it's like to set yourself free from the way other people have told you the way the world is supposed to work.

I was really sheltered as a child. My family was by no means rich, but we were upper middle class, and I experienced no poverty, no economic hardship whatsoever. I was also raised Roman Catholic by a very devout mother, who taught me to be kind, to forgive and to treat everyone as I would want to be treated. Of course, I was a kid, and kids are little shits, so it's not like I'm saying I always did what my parents told me, but it's the foundation everything I am was built upon. So when I left that sheltered environment and began encountering people and ideas that challenged the way I'd been taught to view the world, I experienced a very real mental crisis that I think is common for people going to college for the first time. I began to realize there was a huge disconnect between the things my mother taught me about how to be a good person, and some of the things I was told by my parents, my culture and everything around me about the world. This is one of the reasons conservative parents (mine included) are convinced that college brainwashes you to be liberal. What it actually does, if you do it right, is UN-brainwash you. True education isn't supposed to indoctrinate you into any belief, liberal or conservative or anything else. It's supposed to teach you how to see and understand the world so you can form your own beliefs, to think for yourself.

And that's what happens in this book for Sarah and Linda, when ten black high school students become the first to enter a white high school in 1959 Virginia, four years after the passing of "Brown vs. the Board of Education."

Look, this book is emotionally brutal. But it's important. I've read about Desegregation before and learned the facts in a 'This is What Happened' sort of way, but I never before thought about what any of it meant for the actual people experiencing it, or what it meant about the people tormenting them. The very first chapter of this book features the black students entering the school for the first time, and immediately Talley writes it so that you feel what they feel, as they are mobbed by angry white people, screaming at them, throwing things, calling them horrible names and chanting, and generally acting like they aren't even human. It made me sick. And so angry. And ashamed for the human race that people could act so full of ignorance, stupidity, violence and hatred. And it only got worse from there. We are terrible and we deserve nothing.

But in the midst of this is brave Sarah, a high school senior determined to stick it out and do her part for the cause, because her parents have asked her to. And in the midst of this is Linda, the daughter of a prominent segregationist, whose world is completely shaken at its core by the experience of knowing a black person first as a human being and not as a piece of propaganda.

And then of course, the thing the marketing of this book sort of goes out of its way to hide, that this is a love story between two girls living in a place where it's not okay for them to even be friends, let alone in love with one another. And they are both sooooo confused. About everything. The emotional journey of this book is just lovely.

And of course it's great as a piece of historical fiction as well. The way that Talley integrates (pun initially unintended, but I'm totally going with it now) talk about identity and desegregation and rethinking the things you know, it just all *works*. The only complaint I really have about the whole thing is that Linda's initial change of heart felt a little too fast for me in the beginning, but I think even that complaint is irrelevant at the end, because Talley certainly spends enough time letting her sort things through for it to be believable by the end.

Anyway, long story short, you should read this book. Even if you "don't like YA." If this book teaches anything, it's that labels are shit. Read the book and think for yourself. I'm being overly aggressive in this last paragraph, perhaps, but when I see a book that should be more widely read, I feel like I need to do my part and share the love.

[4.5 stars, rounded up]
Profile Image for Louisa.
497 reviews364 followers
November 24, 2014
(4.5 stars) I'm about as far from being able to empathise with the characters and the plot - I'm a straight Chinese girl living in a Chinese-dominated country - but wow. This book. It hit me so hard in the feels. Even when I was SO ANGRY at everything that was happening, my heart was breaking.
Colored people aren't the same as whites. They aren't as smart. They haven't accomplished the things we have. They aren't as good as we are.
Everyone knows it. Even the colored people know. It's just not good etiquette to say so. It feels shameful to even think the words.
That's probably why I've never thought about it much. It's just how things have always been.
But I'm thinking about it now. And it feels more shameful than ever.

Think about LGBT rights. Now, think about racism. Then, think about how bad it must have been in 1959, when "colored" and "white" toilets still existed. This is what Sarah Dunbar has to go through, as one of the first black students to attend the all-white Jefferson High, at the height of desegregation.

The things that she and her friends go through are absolutely heartbreaking. The white students scream "nigger" in their faces, throw baseballs at their heads, taunt them every second they're in school, chant stuff like "Two, four, six, eight! We don't want to integrate!", and basically make their lives a living hellhole. I have no idea how black Southerners back then took it, but God bless them if it was as bad as or even worse than it was here (from the author's note, it was). While events like Ferguson have re-stirred the problem of racism in America, it still isn't as terrible as it was just 50 years ago.

Among all that, Sarah has to battle her feelings for Linda, the white daughter of the town's biggest segregationist. Linda has to rethink her outlook on segregation, too, especially when she realises her mutual feelings for Sarah.

Not that it's easy for either of them.
I should go to a doctor. There's got to be something they can do to make sure this doesn't happen to me again. Some sort of treatment program.
But I can't go to see Dr. Augustus. I'd have to ask Mama to make the appointment for me. What would I tell her? That her daughter is a--
Mama and Daddy can't know. Not ever.
I bend over and let the tears fall onto my knees.

I really appreciate how Talley tackled two major issues, keeping both at the forefront.

Downside: I think Sarah's and Linda's feelings changed a little too quickly, especially on Linda's part. I don't really see what attracted them to each other besides their looks at first. And that said, for all the agony they went through, the ending felt rather too neat. But I don't begrudge them their HEA! GOD KNOWS they deserve it.

I hope we stop living in a world where LGBT people and POCs are killed, bullied and persecuted just because of their skin colour or sexual preference. I'm sure it still goes on. I just hope books like Talley's bring awareness to issues that should, for god's sake, not still be issues now.

Profile Image for Mónica BQ.
759 reviews117 followers
June 8, 2016
This is a very difficult book to review.

On the one hand, I really liked it as a purely piece of fiction. The writing was really good, the story was engaging, interesting and fluid. I really loved the title and the way it is used as an intro for the chapters, that was a great idea. I liked the slightly historical feel to it, the end of the 50s and start of the 60s in the States is basically an unknown era for me. I liked Sarah a lot. On the other hand, I strongly feel that this wasn't a white author's story to tell. Specially not to teenagers.

First, I should say going into this book I knew next to nothing about school integration in the 60s in the USA or the work the people behind the NAACP did or about the struggle and sacrifices many black young people made in the name of equality back then. And as much as I tried to investigate some things up, the precise reason for which I ended the book with a slight feeling of uneasiness is because I fear the details and the knowledge I'll retain will be those that I read from a white woman. See, this is the power of books. Books teach. Books influence. Books change our minds and help us form opinions. And my first dip into what it probably still is one the pinnacles of black fights for equality was this story. And as much as it seems to be well researched, well documented, well portrayed is still is a white person's telling. In the story of one the most prominent historical achievements for black people, I have read a white woman's writing. And to be honest, I feel disappointed in myself for that.

The book follows the lives of two girls during the last stretch of their senior year in high school, when the Supreme Court Justice had ruled school integrations an obligation for local governments and after much debate, court appeals and general public outrage it is done. Sarah, the black girl, joins the white high school along with a few others and comes face to face with the bigotry, racism and nastiness of the people there. And Linda, the white girl, is the daughter of one the most outspoken opposers of desegregation. They meet when they come face to face in several classes and in one they are forced to work together on a project. The main line of the book follows the trajectory each take in coming to terms with their situation and with coming of age in a moment of historical significance. For the most part I felt like it was a very well depicted story, Sarah and her fellow black students face awful, horrible things. The despicable acts and words are described with no blurriness in the book. And when the time comes to read from Linda's POV you get a very detailed description of her general spitefulness.

After that is when I started having several misgivings with the story. The story arc for Sarah is about her realising her strength and worthiness in times of change. For Linda, is about realising her internalised bigotry and the power she has to make a change. Unfortunately I felt that the way those realisations came about were too easy for Linda. And they were done the wrong way. Instead of realising that racism and the degrading of others is wrong because all human beings deserve respect and equal treatment, she comes to the conclusion just because she befriends Sarah and thinks she's different from other black people. And she mostly never steps out from that frame of thought. Worse still, is they way they initially bond through Linda getting the feel that both her and Sarah are similarly "trapped" by their circumstances. And I am sorry, but NO. Whatever fucking struggles a white girl was having, they did not equate to those of the black girl. Of course suffering is not a contest and no has a monopoly on difficult situations, but there is a reason for why institutionalised racism makes opportunities a million times harder to come by for marginalised groups than for white, middle class people. And the very real fear of getting killed every time you walked into and out of school would never be the same as a white girl not being able to figure out her future- when "getting away from Daddy" is her only goal it isn't very hard to come up with solutions. She would have had endless possibilities and most likely fortuitous results. Furthermore, all throughout Linda's story I felt an undercurrent of excuses being used for the way she was, most specifically that of Linda being the product of her times. And, in general, that's the most bullshit asshatery of a justification. To say "she didn't know any better/ any different" is rationalising a pretext for being a racist. An educated, privileged person with easy access to information and knowledge, doesn't get that pass with me.

In the end, I can say I liked the book. But I have so many problems with it that I can only recommend it with caution. I don't even feel good about my liking it and I definitely think I made a mistake when I read this without first having read a black person's story about the same topic. There's very few reviews by black people for this book, and I tried to find them all to get an idea of what black people thought of it. The vast majority were positive and praising, which is really good to know. And like most of them I think we need more lesbian interracial romances stat.
Profile Image for Kat.
Author 8 books326 followers
August 17, 2018
Buddy read with Lola 😊

Really interesting novel about the desegregation of schools in the US in Virginia in 1959, and the African-American students who endured terrible torment and racism as they integrated a previously all-white school. I found the narration of Sarah, Ruth, Ennis, and the other students raw and gripping as they had to push their way into the school while being spit on, mauled and screamed at. It made me very angry to read at times when there was no help to be found, not from teachers, not from any of the students, I can just imagine how terrified and angry and violated I would have felt, helpless to do anything while this sea of horrible people swarmed around me… and I had to go to school there.

Sarah’s life is such an interesting contrast to Linda’s, the white girl whose father runs the local paper, and who is a younger redheaded bullhorn for his racist views. Sarah has the strong family support system, but is constantly fighting institutionalized racism. The way the author writes every minute of her school day is just so exhausting. And honestly, reading Linda’s perspective is exhausting, too, listening to her babble on, so convinced of her racist diatribe. Linda is intended to become a love interest for Sarah, but it’s hard to picture her as such. Even when she thinks half-heartedly of a compliment towards Sarah, it’s always nastily tied in the same sentence to some little racist jab. Sarah, it’s easy to cheer for. Linda, you really want off the page.

There were parts of this book I find absolutely amazing. The way Robin Talley writes

Please excuse typos/name misspellings. Entered on screen reader.
Profile Image for Giselle.
1,054 reviews911 followers
March 27, 2016
This book you guys.. I find that it's probably one of the most important reads I've read in all my time since I've been blogging. Dealing with such a heavy topic like racism can be hard to take. But this one really made me feel like I was right there alongside these characters and seeing everything and experiencing everything they were feeling. There was so much hate. So much anger. You can feel it leap off the pages. I found the two different viewpoints to be extremely informative. Both are excellent portrayals from each side.

Sarah is one of my favourite characters I have read lately. She has the strongest will and determination. I kept applauding her every chance I could get. Not only is she one of the first black students, she's also gay. In the 1950s, liking someone of the same gender would probably give way to a jail sentence. I applaud this character for being brave and strong. As for Linda, I easily judged her to be super ignorant. Then you start to get deeper into the book, and you know she has some issues, especially with her family. Perfection is never easy when it comes to the white popular student.

This is truly one of the most emotionally charged and challenging books I have read. Lies We Tell Ourselves is a must-read for anyone.

RATING 4/5

QUOTES

"We don't believe in race mixing in this class. So you best turn around and run back to Africa." (38)

"Everyone used to say if you touched a coloured person the black on his skin would rub off onto yours." (130)

"God made white people and colored people different, and he put them on different continents. Everything was fine until the races started to mix. That's what caused all the problems we have today." (133)

"Coloured people aren't the same as whites. They aren't as smart. They haven't accomplished the things we have. They aren't as good as we are." (141)

"He said coloured people weren't as good as we were. That was why they lived in different neighbourhoods, went to different schools, worked at easier jobs for less money." (298)

"Why does everything have to be about colour?" (327)

"Other people will always try to decide things for you. They'll try to tell you who you are. Remember, no matter what they say, you're the one who really decides." (368)
September 3, 2016

This month's local bookclub read and it was my pick so I hope it's good. <--- I've finished and it's more than good! Lies we tell ourselves is an important, thought provoking historical read.

FULL REVIEW THOUGHTS TO COME



#YoungAdult
Profile Image for Cora Tea Party Princess.
1,323 reviews802 followers
June 10, 2016
5 Words: Racism, bullying, family, forbidden love.

This isn't one of those books you read for fun. It's one of those books that makes you think and strikes you right to your very core.

I hadn't read the synopsis of this book when I picked it up. I'd looked at the cover, impulse-requested on NetGalley, and started it when I was looking for something and the title appealed to me.

I stayed up well past bedtime each night reading this book, so I've been very tired for work this past week. But it was worth it.

This is a book that shocks and enlightens, and I loved Linda and Sarah and how they changed and grew. And I freaking loved that ending.

There's no happily-ever-after with this story. There's a believable yet very uncertain conclusion, and I want so badly to know what happens next.

I received a copy of this for free via NetGalley for review purposes.
Profile Image for Maddie.
557 reviews1,136 followers
September 14, 2016
Somehow I forgot to add this to my Goodreads during the BookTubeAThon but it's never too late to say how amazing and heartbreaking this book was! I loved the relationship between Sarah and Linda and how they grew to know each other despite all the prejudice and hatred surrounding them. I feel so sad reading about LGBT+ protagonists that think what they feel is wrong, but learning to accept yourself is the most important thing.

In conclusion, Robin Talley is killing it.
Profile Image for Yeva.
31 reviews11 followers
November 19, 2017
fuck, this book is literally, hands down, the best I've ever fucking read. Shedding light and educating readers on the racism and abuse African Americans had to ensure and suffer + a relationship between a white and black girl in a world full of homophobia and racism, HELL YES!!!!

I literally cannot stress how AMAZING this book is like honestly fucking read it oh my god.
Profile Image for Erin.
2,883 reviews488 followers
March 28, 2020
In an effort to #flattenthecurve, I have alternated between spring cleaning my apartment and tackling the large stack of books on my bookshelves. However, I am falling way behind in my reviews. Eventually this particular bookworm will balance it all out.


Lies We Tell Ourselves is set in 1959 Virginia on the first day that a group of ten African-American students are to enter an all white school. Integration is not something the students of Jefferson High want and although these characters are fictional they do represent what many real students faced during this time period. AS we see through the eyes of Sarah Dunbar, one of the new students, a very frightening experience as she, her sister Ruth, and the other students are tormented on a daily basis. The other perspective is seen through the eyes of the school's most staunch segregationist, Linda Hairston. When the two girls are forced to work on a school assignment together, their relationship takes a turn not quite expected.


A YA storyline that was compelling and compulsively readable. Even a week after finishing I cannot help bit wonder what happened to Linda and Sarah and many of the other characters that Robin Talley introduced in her debut novel. It's a richly wriiten narrative that would also appeal to adult readers too.


Goodreads review published 28/03/20
Profile Image for Amanda.
1,073 reviews222 followers
July 21, 2016
Oh this book hurt my heart! Imagine it's 1959 in Va and you are one of the first 10 black students to attend an all white school. You fear for your life, you get taunted and called horrible names every day. In the midst of this chaos Sarah and Linda develop a friendship that tests them both and makes them question everything they thought they knew. This book is fiction but what these kids went through was real. This is a YA title but I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone.
Profile Image for Maja (The Nocturnal Library).
1,013 reviews1,880 followers
October 20, 2014
Lies We Tell Ourselves is more than just a book; it’s a reading experience, and a painful one at that. On page 7, I started clutching the book tightly, bracing myself for the pain it would inevitably bring. On page 11, tears were already streaming down my face and I wasted no effort in trying to suppress them.

Lies We Tell Ourselves is a story about two girls, as different as they can possibly be, but both incredibly brave in their own ways. Sarah is one of the first students to set foot into a previously all-white school and Linda is her exact opposite – a privileged white girl determined to make Sarah’s life miserable.

As hard as it is to like Linda at first, one can’t really blame her for her attitude. It’s all she’s ever known, all she’s been taught by her parents and other authority figures. Given the chance, she quickly realizes that her worldview makes little sense and the slow changes in her attitude start. How things unravel from there is both beautiful and extremely painful and the girls have to fight more than just prejudice if they’re to live the lives they both deserve.

Lies We Tell Ourselves is a heartbreaking book, but it is also filled with hope and love and eye-opening moments. I loved Sarah’s family, their courage and integrity. I admired Sarah for her strength and resolve and in the end, Linda completely won me over with her willingness to do what’s right at any cost.

I’ll admit that the romance seemed a bit superfluous at times, but by the end, it brought the point home nicely. Just because we’re fighting one big battle doesn’t mean we’re somehow exempt from others that may come our way and when they do, the first one has either broken us or prepared us to fight whatever we need to in order to survive. Linda and Sarah chose to fight for their lives and their love and while the world may not have been ready for them, they were certainly ready for each other.


Profile Image for Tiff.
569 reviews539 followers
October 24, 2014
Review originally posted at: http://mostlyyalit.blogspot.ca/2014/1...

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.
Profile Image for Anna Kļaviņa.
787 reviews196 followers
May 12, 2016


At first I gave this book 4* because I decided to look past how problematic Linda/Sarah is and focus on how much I liked this book, and it took me two months to decide that NOPE, I can't ignore that Linda is racist af, falling in love doesn't magically end racism.


Profile Image for Paige (Illegal in 3 Countries).
1,212 reviews391 followers
November 1, 2014
See more of my reviews on The YA Kitten! My copy was an ARC I got at BEA 2014.

The way I've pitched this novel to people ever since I saw the deal for it is "interracial lesbian couple in the midst of desegregation in 1959 Virginia." Most have been convinced by that because I have pretty awesome friends and I've gone green with envy upon seeing other reviewers get copies or talk about how good it was. So highly anticipated was it that I made it my number-one priority at BEA 2014! All that excitement? Worth it. Lies We Tell Ourselves is a painful novel to read, but its importance is impossible to explain.

Remember those pictures from US history books where a swarm of angry white parents and teens are screaming at black students walking into schools to integrate them? That kind of scene opens the novel and Talley captures the horrifying, visceral feeling of being there in Sarah's shoes as people shout racial slurs at her and threaten her. The kind of torture she goes through at the hands of racist classmates is enough to make anyone want to give up and return to their old school the way one of the ten black students does eventually, but Sarah is determined to stay strong and stick it out.

Though it's difficult to understand her attraction to Linda at times because most of what comes out of Linda's mouth is offensive, Sarah is overall a great character. At the very least, her patience in explaining to Linda all the ways she's wrong about how black people are and the way separate but equal is far from what it's supposed to be is admirable beyond measure. I want to think someone couldn't possibly be as thick as Linda, but they were back then and some people still are. See: my future sister-in-law claiming racism is gone in hiring practices and the workplace at large.

After some time in Sarah's shoes, we get put in Linda's and her point-of-view is no less difficult to read. Oftentimes, her racism and blatant echoing of her awful father is infuriating and makes you need to put the book down before you do something you regret. Her growth as a character is slow, but it does happen. Like many start to do during and after the civil rights movement, she begins to see where her society is wrong in how it teaches her to regard people who aren't white. Honestly, she's not even all the way to not being racist by the end of the novel, but she's well on her way there and that's good enough. Talley took an awful character and made me love her.

Balancing the civil rights aspects and comings-out/developing relationship of two girls is not an easy act, but it's so well-balanced in the novel you wouldn't necessarily realize how much trouble Talley had while writing it until you actually saw or heard her talk about how difficult it was as she does in the author's note. Racism is hard enough to deal with, but dealing with internalized homophobia at the same time when a devout Christian upbringing is the norm for both sides? Sarah and Linda's hatred of themselves in parts of the novel when they realize their attraction to one another is... Heartbreaking is the word I want to use, but it's not strong enough to describe how much it hurts. There's no LGBT+ movement to help them and give them strength, which may make the way they find their own strength even more lovely. It really did bring tears to my eyes.

Part of the reason this novel hits so hard is that the issues of civil rights, the ideology behind segregation, and the difficulty of being gay in a time and place that doesn't tolerate it is that none of it is dead and gone the way we'd like it to be. The small Georgia town my mother grew up in is still as segregated in 2014 as it was when she was a teenager in the 1970s; the population is and has always been mostly black since its founding in the late 1800s. There, blacks and whites go to different hair salons, a dead person is handled by different funeral homes depending on their race, and white children are put into a private school that has about 10 graduates per year unless their parents are too poor to afford it, in which case they go to the 95% black public schools.

My point with that anecdote is that Lies We Tell Ourselves is a timeless novel and threads of the problems it confronts are still deeply woven into our society. Though set in a past not too far removed from our own--my parents and grandparents remember it all well--what it has to say is as relevant in the present as it is in the novel's time period 60 years ago. Trends come and go, some books are a flash in the pan, and others remain on everyone's lips for years. If the world is even a little just, Lies We Tell Ourselves will be a novel that stands the test of time and becomes a classic of YA like Speak, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Forever... It really is that good.

Going back to how I pitch the book to friends, it sounds like something too outlandish to see in YA, a category regularly criticized for its lack of diversity and even moreso for a lack of intersectional diversity that makes finding LGBT+ books about non-white boys and girls next to impossible. Still, Talley worked hard and made it happen and the product of her work is a beautiful novel sure to be regarded as one of the best YA novels of 2014. If you can only buy one book in September 2014, wait out the month and make it this one.
Profile Image for Jhosy.
231 reviews1,137 followers
February 15, 2019

I decided to drop this reading. This was not doing anything to me other than making me uncomfortable.
I tried hard to like the book and forget that this was written by a white woman.
A white woman telling the story of a black girl in a time of racial segregation. '-'
Oh well, I thought to myself: That's not right ... But then I thought again: you need to take a chance, maybe she got it right?
Well ... Despite the reviews I saw, I didn't think she got it right.
This book was obviously written for white women, because I didn't feel that this was made for me, specifically.
At all times of the book there is a repetition of racist words and while this is necessary to understand what the character is going through, repetition in each chapter, almost in each paragraph only makes the black reader uncomfortable.
Another thing that made me quite uncomfortable was the fact that Sarah's love interest, even though she didn't know better and with racist relatives ... Was not a character that I would ship with Sarah. Never!
It is simply not healthy and rather strange that a black girl who lives undergoing bullying and racism would fall in love with a girl who is as racist just like the others.
And okay ... She learned that she was wrong ... But how would a black person fall in love with a racist !?
There is no explanation ... I can't accept this.
Anyway ... Honestly, after everything I've read in this book I'm more annoyed with myself for having wasted my time reading this.
Gosh ... What a waste of time.
Profile Image for Dov Zeller.
Author 2 books104 followers
Read
July 14, 2016
Spoilers = a few.

In many ways this review is an exploration of the unresolvable and thought-provoking problems of authorial narration in "Lies We Tell Ourselves." I will begin by talking about another novel I read a week or two ago that brought me to a similar contemplative place. That book is "Lovely Green Eyes" by Arnost Lustig. I've been struggling to form an organized response to it, and maybe I should shift my approach to allow for something more unprocessed and unfiltered. Otherwise I may give up on the project altogether. But, that aside...

"Lovely Green Eyes" is a novel written in 2002 about Hanka Kaudersova, a Jewish teenager from Prague. She is fifteen years old during the events that take place in the novel though she turns sixteen by the end of the book (after the war). She is fifteen in Auschwitz-Birkenau and she is still fifteen after she escapes by passing as someone who is not Jewish and becoming a prostitute in a German field brothel. She 'serves' at the field brothel for 21 days before escaping, and is likely the only female-bodied person who makes it out of the field brothel alive.

Here is a book written by a man -- writer, teacher and holocaust survivor, Arnost Lustig. And narrated by a man - someone who cares deeply about Hanka and wishes to marry her. The narrator is another Jewish holocaust survivor who Hanka knows at least as an acquaintance before the war, and who she connects with after the war when survivors find each other and try to stay afloat in the wreckage of a fragmented universe and piece together some kind of life.

There are two layers of male narration in "Lovely Green Eyes" and three if you count the strange and somewhat confusing narration of what the German soldiers are thinking as they are with Hanka, or "Skinny" as she is known in the brothel. Are these moments of narration in which we hear a German soldier's thoughts the approximations of what the male narrator thinks these soldiers must have been thinking when they were with "Skinny"? Are they Hanka's best guesses that she then shared with the narrator? Do they come from some kind of research that the narrator did or are there convoluted and complex slips into 'omniscient' narration in this novel?

The book is written and narrated by men, fellow holocaust survivors, and yet this is the story of a girl whose experiences are beyond the comprehension of a male-bodied person. At least one would think so. And yet, the bodies prisoners of all sex-gender combinations become besieged, invaded and exploited. Hanka survives Auschwitz-Birkenau partly because she is placed as an assistant to a German doctor who is performing hideous experiments on Jewish bodies. He castrates Jewish boys and 'sterilizes' Hanka herself.

There is a way that these survivors understand each other, are drawn to each other because no one else can possibly understand what they've been through. This is an intensified version of what is often true of people of minority group/cultures -- that they are drawn to each other because they speak a similar cultural and experiential language and share experiential understanding.

And maybe in a small way that is something that draws the two main characters in "Lies We Tell Ourselves" together. They are both queer in a world that doesn't tolerate difference. But is this enough given their grave differences?

For the last week plus, I've been thinking about "Lovely Green Eyes" and asking myself:

"How do I talk about this book? How do write reasonably about a book written by a man and narrated by a man and yet representing the experience of a fifteen year old girl who has been brutally assaulted by so many men? How do I say something review-like about a book in which a fifteen year old girl is for all intents and purposes raped by at least a dozen German soldiers a day for the better part of three weeks -- the same men who helped murder her entire family -- all the while knowing that any minute for any or no reason at all, she could be murdered herself, and no one would care? And this after years of incomprehensible suffering? Is this a book about human brutality or a book about resilience and love? Is it neither or both?"

I have seen reviewers write about the two officers Hanka gets matched up with as the "good officer" and the "bad officer" when they are both responsible for egregious acts and both using young women with the expectation that their nobleness, humanity and desirability should be in tact -- that the prostitutes who serve them should also desire them. But people who read this book want to forgive. They want to forgive and forget, maybe in part because they want to be forgiven. Does Lustig intend for people to be confused about the moral and ethical relativism of the world this book places us in?

And then, as I am trying say something articulate about "Lovely Green Eyes", I find myself reading "Lies We Tell Ourselves" and this question of narration and storytelling looms large. Again I wonder, "How in the world do I write about this book in a way that honors the subject-matter?"

"Lies We Tell Ourselves" is a story narrated in first-person, going back and forth between two girls who gradually form a relationship with each other. It is a story about a black girl and a white girl in Virginia in 1959 who fall in love in a time of deep segregation.

Sarah, one of the narrators, is part of a group of black high school students who are the first to go to a previously segregated Virginia school. The town's white folks are angry and violent and terrifying. This is a disturbing book about institutionalized racism and violence. A book about human brutality and also, I suppose, about resilience and love.

Linda, the other narrator is a white student whose father writes for the local white paper. He is anti-integration and basically an abusive, closed-off human.

This is a book written by a white woman and narrated mainly by Sarah and Linda, though at the end is a short part narrated by Sarah's younger sister Ruth.

One of the questions I saw people debating on GR is, is it okay for a white person to write the story of a black person -- particularly a story in which a black person falls in love with a racist white person? When is it okay for a white person to write about black people falling in love with scary, dangerous racist white people? Is it okay that this is a love story since Linda changes and is less racist by the end of the book? Or is this book pretty problematic -- a worrisome tale of 'conversion' in which a person who is being persecuted by a group of people falls in love with one of them and realizes they're not all so bad after all?

Is this story problematic in the way of the novel about the Jewish holocaust survivor falling for the German Christian soldier and converting to Christianity and living happily ever after is http://flavorwire.com/531367/nazi-inm...? Is this as bad as Monster's Ball? http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?p=4 Or is it less bad because it's about a queer relationship and one in which Linda the white girl is also marginalized and she becomes aware at least to some degree that her thinking has been dangerous, uncritical and lacking in sophisticated awareness?

I see people on GR getting into some sad social-media back-and-forth, the kind in which people talk from a place of defensiveness and knee-jerk-pulpity-indignation, rather than really looking at the power dynamics involved in the writing and publishing of such a book. They're not thinking deeply about the intersection of ethics and narration and publishing and marketing, because if they were, they would see there is no easy answer to the questions: "is this book responsible?" "is this book okay?"

For me, well, I found the story too hard to believe. There are too many "conversions" happening, and they are moving too far and too fast. The white girl goes from being adamantly anti-integration to being in love with a black girl. I still can't get past the idea that they found themselves outside of school working on a French project together, let alone that they had a lot of debate-like conversations about segregation and fell for each other. It just doesn't add up. If they were in a school and a town that was less intensely violent toward the idea of integration, but still feeling the effects of early integration (in many places in the U.S. not much meaningful progress has been made) or even a school in the east that might be integrated but still in many ways segregated, I likely could have gone there with the author and narrators. But for Sarah to be experiencing the trauma she's experiencing (a bunch of white people verbally and physically attacking her daily) and then to look at a white girl and get that kicked in the gut love at first sight feeling. Hmmm. Politics and history aside, the narrative doesn't convince me.

So, conversions. Linda goes from being a very anti-integrationist person, partly responsible for mounting violence in the high school, who writes for the school paper and spouts her father's racist ideology without thinking. During the course of the novel she becomes someone who thinks more complexly about race because? Because she's physically and intellectually attracted to Sarah? I guess. Though the writing doesn't convince me of that, either. Nor does it convince me that there's any possibility she and Sarah would have found a way to spend time together after school.

And what are some of the other conversions? Sarah goes from thinking queerness is bad to thinking maybe it's okay. Linda goes through a similar process. This is all happening in the course of ONE YEAR.

They both go from physical attraction to each other (of which I am not convinced) to emotional attraction to each other (of which I am even less convinced).

Linda goes from putting up with her abusive father to not putting up with her abusive father (again, not written in a way that convinces me of its logistical possibility. The character Judy is used in this book as the sort of WD-40 to make all of these things possible, which is too bad, because she might have been a strong character in the novel.)

In the end, I find that I feel much more comfortable with Lustig's narration and his male narrator's narration of the story of Hanka than I do with the writing and narration that happens in "Lies We Tell Ourselves." This is not because Talley hasn't written a solidly good book. The story is well-researched and in many ways compassionate. The details of brutality are vivid and compelling. I left the first chapters of the book really feeling the horrors of institutionalized racism -- of physical, emotional and economic violence. And she also vividly describes the physical and emotional powerfulness and strength of her characters.

The camaraderie between Sarah and her sister Ruth, and her black friends and their experience all feel possible and real in the world of the book.

And the relationship between Linda and Judy holds a lot of potential and possibility, and perhaps even the one between Sarah and Judy.

But the relationship between Sarah and Linda wasn't well-developed and it's sketchy (dubious) in those other ways.

The biggest concern for me is not that Talley wrote such a story, but that she didn't create space for interrogating the narrative. Lustig's book, I would argue, is a book about the problem of narration itself after the holocaust. Can such brutality be fairly represented? Can it be represented in a way that preserves the humanity of its victims? How does a story that describes the rape and assault of a fifteen year old girl do so without re-traumatizing and taking away her privacy? What is the distance between narrator and reader, between reader and history? Can words ever be enough to combat the skepticism of people who can't or won't face the truth of what happened, and if not, can they every be enough? Is there something in trying to represent the brutality of the holocaust that takes away from the seriousness of it? What is the responsibility of narrator, writer, reader and critic? In "Lovely Green Eyes" I find these questions are intelligently explored.

In "Lies We Tell Ourselves" the problems of narration in a book written by a white woman about a persecuted black woman falling in love with a racist white woman, are not addressed in the pages of the novel nor in an introduction. The novel is not a deep contemplation of problems of narration -- perspective, authenticity, subjectivity, intrusiveness, power.

Maybe this is for me what separates YA literature from literary 'adult' writing. I've heard people say that YA is much better crafted and edited -- with much more attention paid to the nuts and bolts of plot and character. That literary fiction can be poorly edited and less well-honed.

But part of what can seem like movement away from 'plot' and 'character' is important stuff. It is the challenge and interrogation of what stories are for and what they are really about. Who is being empowered by them. Whose history is being honored and whose is being disappeared.

There is always more going on than meets the eye in the world of publishing and in the life of a text. Always a lot of unspoken things, a texture of problematic power relationships, text and subtext that flies under the radar with a lot of readers, either because it helps them see themselves in the light they want to see themselves, and/or it helps them see a world they want to see. Maybe we want reading to just be fun. And maybe it can be. And maybe sometimes it really is. But I am not drawn to books that don't ask themselves important questions about how they came to be who and what they are.

So, I do not know how to rate "Lies We Tell Ourselves." I feel connected to many of the characters. Especially to Sarah and her family and friends. I think the subject matter of integration and education is important and currently meaningful. This is not a problem that has been resolved, nor is it easily definable. It is tangled up with many other problem and histories of racial and economic brutality and oppression. I know that we can't limit ourselves to writing only about our own communities and our own experiences, but I can't help but wonder about the appropriateness of the teenage love story in this novel as it is represented and as it is written. I think there are perhaps two separate books in here, related, but quite different.


Profile Image for Diabolica.
413 reviews51 followers
August 13, 2018
I went into this book thinking it was a thriller, (spoiler, it wasn't), but liking it more than a lot of thrillers I've read.

Segregation is seeing its final days as public schools are now required to let in [all] races. Sarah, and few select others are the first batch to be admitted to a previous all-white school.

And while racial discrimination is might be the only issue that the others have to handle, Sarah is struggling with her religion and the way her sexuality fits with it.

The beginning of the story was really good. Talley went right into the time and setting so much so that from the sidelines, I was riled up from page 1.

In one novel, Talley handled two of the most controversial subjects at the time, sexuality and racism. And the result; well done. Both issues were well handled, sexuality on a more personal scale than racism, which was a more societal issue in the novel.

Talley even managed a pretty happy ending too.
Profile Image for Anna.
1,091 reviews88 followers
March 10, 2018
It's 1959, and a brave group of Black high school students are walking into an all White school in Virginia. The school fought hard to keep them out, going so far as closing the school for several months, until a court orders them to reopen. Pelted with racial slurs, pushed, punched and abused, they made their way inside. Once in there was no one to support or protect them beyond a few teachers.
Told through the voice of Sarah, my heart broke at the hatred she and the others confront. I found her fortitude and resilience inspiring.
The other perspective is heard through Linda, the daughter of one of the most forceful opponents to the school integration.
When the two are paired together for a school project, they each find themselves questioning the "truths" they had been raised with. The girls are also questioning their sexuality, a taboo topic at that time.
A powerful, emotional story about standing up for what is right and discovering the strength to speak up about injustices.
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