Mónica BQ's Reviews > Lies We Tell Ourselves

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
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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.
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Reading Progress

September 18, 2015 – Shelved
September 18, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
June 1, 2016 – Started Reading
June 3, 2016 –
35.0% "It's been a slow going read because of work, but so far so good."
June 4, 2016 –
67.0% "Hmmm"
June 7, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by Ariadna (new)

Ariadna What a thoughtful and honest review, M.!

I really liked how you explained the reason why you were uncomfortable with some aspects of the book. This kind of history IS important, but the fact that it's told from a white (albeit well-intentioned) persepective makes you wonder what's missing.

Having grown up in the US, I can deffo tell you that the civil rights part of US history is easily blended in just a few lessons (at least the high school level) highlighting the "most important" facts. The downside of this is that A LOT of things get swept away/omitted.

Although I don't think it's wrong you liked it, I totes understand your reservations about it.

Anyhoo, like I mentioned before, this is a great review. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about it with us. :)

Mónica BQ Thanks! :D

This way of putting it is exactly how I felt: This kind of history IS important, but the fact that it's told from a white (albeit well-intentioned) persepective makes you wonder what's missing.

It was a really good book, but I have issues. Hahahaha


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