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Lies We Tell Ourselves: A New York Times bestseller (Harlequin Teen) Paperback – January 26, 2016
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"A well-handled debut." -Booklist
"A piercing look at the courage it takes to endure...forms of extreme hatred, violence, racism and sexism." -Kirkus Reviews
"The big issues of school desegregation in the 1950s, interracial dating, and same-sex couples have the potential to be too much for one novel, but the author handles all with aplomb. What makes it even better is that both Linda's and Sarah's points of view are revealed as the novel unfolds, giving meaning to their indoctrinated views.... This is a meaningful tale about integration." -VOYA
"I found myself at turns grateful and horrified as I read Talley's fictionalized account of integration.... Lies We Tell Ourselves might be fiction, but the story is true-and it's one we should never forget." -NPR
"A stirring portrayal of the fight for integration in the late 1950s.... Both [integration and gay rights] are touchy subjects, yet Ms. Talley navigates them with grace. She concentrates on her characters, developing their personalities, their conflicting interests, and showing how their experiences affect them.... This is not an easy book to read, but there's a lot of hope at the core of the story.... Definitely a must-read book... I'm sure this book will go down in the young adult canon as a classic." -Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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Meanwhile, there is a white student at the school, Linda Hairston, who is the daughter of the main newspaper’s editor and most outspoken critic of de-segregation. Linda hates and fears her father but has been brought up hearing negative things about black people and believes in all the “reasons” the races should stay “separate but equal”. She sees the new black students as “instigators” and is irritated that they weren’t happy to simply stay at their own school. She writes editorials for the school newspaper that blame the black kids for the abuse they are enduring at the hands of the whites. In her mind, they are ungrateful and lesser people who have arrived out of their selfishness to ruin her senior year.
When Sarah and Linda end up assigned to work on a project together, both are upset about it. Sarah knows Linda’s feelings about herself and the other black kids, and Linda not only feels she is above having to work with Sarah on the project, but also fears her father’s reaction if he finds out about it. So, they decide to meet secretly. As they are forced to interact more and more, Linda starts to question the things she has been brought up to believe about blacks. However, she has a habit of seeing Sarah as different from the others, continuing her dislike for the other black students. Linda waivers back and forth between liking Sarah and hating her. Some of the things that come out of Linda’s mouth are so offensive, it’s hard to believe Sarah would even continue to try to get through to her, but she does, and they end up forming a special friendship.
I really liked Lies We Tell Ourselves for the most part. I think it’s a very important book, and one that everyone should read, just to experience what Sarah and the others went through in a first person narrative. It’s so much different than reading about this period of history in a textbook or even a non-fiction book. This feels so much more personal. I felt the fear, anger, and the humiliation along with Sarah. I even empathized somewhat with Linda, who was so much a product of her environment and her overbearing father. That doesn’t excuse the way she acted, but I was able to understand her character. The secondary characters were well-developed, and I was able to see things from their points of view as well, especially Ruthie’s.
The problem I had with Lies We Tell Ourselves, which is going to keep me from giving it five stars, is the budding romance between Sarah and Linda. It’s not that it was an inter-racial lesbian relationship, I don’t have a problem with that, it’s more that it was a relationship between two people from such different mindsets, backgrounds, and histories. I never felt that Linda accepted the equality of blacks, especially so much so that she would consider getting involved romantically with Sarah. I also never understood Sarah’s interest in Linda, other than to educate her on her misconceptions of the different races. They just seemed too different to me. I never really felt any chemistry between them either, unless it was supposed to be in the almost constant arguments. I understand the link between racial and sexual prejudice, but I think it was just too much to take on in one book. I think it would have been much better had the relationship between Linda and Sarah been left as simply a friendship. However, that said, I would still recommend the book as a good eye-opener into the history of integration.
You can see more of my book reviews at <a href="http://bookwormbookreviews.com">Bookworm Book Reviews</a>.
The book was so good on the second reading, I feel like reading it a third time. The opening chapters in particular are written with such intensity, I felt as if I was Sarah, or one of her friends, when she entered Jefferson high for the first time. I raged and I cried and I felt hope as I read this book - and I think the chapters from Linda's POV made it so excruciatingly clear how segregated the US South actually was. Linda had some pretty wild ideas about what a black person was, that's for sure, and it all felt completely realistic to me as a reader.
This is one of those rare books I gladly label as a must-read.
Robin Talley writes Sarah and Linda's story beautifully, authentically, and viscerally. This isn't a happy book but it's a hopeful one. I'll definitely be adding it to my classroom library.
Top international reviews
The story opens in early 1959, where the governor of Virginia has kept schools closed for months to avoid the desegregation of the school system in his state. On the first day school opens, ten black students register at a previously whites-only high school and we are shown the horrifying abuse they are subjected to. Over the course of the story, we are shown the bullying and violence through the eyes of Sarah, a black girl who is joining the school and Linda, a white girl from a staunchly segregationist background.
I felt incredibly sorry for Sarah and the predicament she found herself in. On the one hand, she had her parents and the NAACP pushing her like anything to join Jefferson High School, controlling her life and trying to make her the poster girl for desegregation, and on the other hand she was being bullied and abused on a daily basis by her racist classmates. Would I have been brave enough to do the same thing in her situation? I think I can answer, with absolute certainty, no.
I was glad the author pointed out Sarah’s doubts about joining Jefferson High School and didn’t just portray her as a crusading martyr, as she was a lot more relatable this way. I also found it interesting that while she believed in equality for everyone regardless of skin colour, the same beliefs didn’t apply to other minority groups. When she realises she has feelings for Linda, she considers it to be unnatural and disgusting and a sin. Similarly, she doesn’t seem to think that women should be afforded equal rights to men or that they are as intelligent as them. It’s weird - you just always assume that because someone believes in equal rights in one area, they’ll believe in equal rights for everyone but this wasn’t the case here.
I felt probably less sorry for Linda. She had obviously spent her life swallowing the segregationist propaganda she had been fed and I wished that she’d used her brain a bit more and formulated her own opinions. I was glad she changed her attitude somewhat as the book progressed, but I did wonder if her attitude would have changed so much if she hadn’t had feelings for Sarah.
Before I went into this book, I actually knew a little bit about desegregation as we covered the American civil rights movement in GCSE history, but it was interesting (in a horrifying way) to get more detail, so in this respect I really admire what the author was doing.
I think the main issue I had with this story was that I felt the plot felt a little flat and because this is such an issues-driven book, it didn’t allow me to connect with the characters as much as I’d have liked. The atmosphere in the school and also in the town is obviously very violent, but because the violence and abuse is constant, it eventually loses its tension and the plot falls down slightly in the face of the issues the author is highlighting.
I also didn’t feel that the romance between Linda and Sarah was very romantic. They obviously had feelings for each other and I was glad they didn’t just fall in instalove, but mostly the romance seemed to consist of them avoiding each other and having long internal monologues about how twisted and sinful they were. I get that this was a product of the times they were living in, but it did leave the romance feeling a bit overshadowed.
Overall, this was a thumbs-up. I really appreciate what the author was doing and while the plot wasn’t all I’d hoped it would I think it’s still a very important book.
You may have seen 'Hairspray' and heard the name Rosa Parks, but the bravery of some, depth of misunderstanding by so many have not been understood by bystanders - until this account attempts to explain how change was attempted via the introduction of young people into an alien world.
As a comparison, contemporary issues also include political events where adults decide upon changes, only to put their offspring into a situation of greater challenge than their own stance. Schools today present the same scenarios.
My great reserve about the story was including lesbianism between two characters, who historically did not experience the same event. Colour was the singular issue of the time, with prejudices met thereafter.
I was concerned that the original people central to the integration of black students into 'white' schools could be easily recognised and researched, including two sisters. The stories of the entire group of black students to me was harrowing enough, without any addition of a contemporary issue. I feel strongly that original issues were enough, they needed no adding to at all.
My only interpretation of contemporary inclusion is that to attract and hold the attention of modern day young readers, was to include an issue today's youngsters are familiar with. In this way, their emotions, understanding and recognition of dilemma may have been brought into play.
A harder book to read for some, discussion groups could be useful here. Not for the younger reader, but mid- to late-teenage appropriate.
Easy to appreciate why this was the winner though.
I never really thought about the transitional period between segregation and integration. I don't know a lot about American history, but I know that at some point it was unacceptable for white people and coloured people to go to school together, date each other, befriend each other and even be in the same area. And then it was okay. The first chapter of this book is SO powerful because it really brings to light what happened in that 'in-between' bit where black people attended white schools for the first time. And I was hooked from there. Sarah is a great character, and I loved watching her struggle with the values of her time - the fact that people were so against her because of the colour of her skin, but also because she was gay in a time when thoughts like that were 'sinful'. Linda too was interesting, the personality that everyone saw did not reflect her truest feelings but I'm also glad that a little bias was there. It would have bordered on silly if Talley had placed a full-blown 21st Century liberal in with the white people. She learnt a lot of things about herself, her beliefs and how the future could change.
I loved how Talley treated the relationship between Sarah and Linda too. As their feelings for each other grew, so did the complications in their lives, and while the ending wasn't 'happy', it was hopeful. There really wasn't anything bad I had to say about this book other than the fact that it ended because I was enjoying it so much. Starting each chapter with a lie was a really cool idea too. I am definitely going to recommend this book highly to anyone who will listen, it's FANTASTIC.
I would summarise this book with the word "brave", as all the main characters will prove to be so in their own way at some point. It was worth going through some painful scenes (very well described and beautifully written), as the reward is a little bit of hope at the end of this very dark tunnel. In the end I think even us, the readers, can be considered brave as we step into this uncomfortable (real) world and follow our characters step by step, holding their hands, carefully looking around and clenching our teeth as we make our way through the (hateful) crowd.
You follow the story of Sarah and Linda, two girls from completely polar opposite worlds. By fate, they’re brought together and have to learn to settle there differences, but you’ll find in this story, that’s only the beginning of their tale! Fate unwinds itself nicely as the girls learn to accept each other and something blossoms between them. Something unexpected for both of them, considering who they are.
If you’re considering ordering this book for a read, please do it. It’s wonderful and I’ve read it over and over.
It’s such a beautiful tale about some controversial topics, but it handles them wonderfully. The author (Robin Talley), states how hard they worked on the book, pouring thousands of time and energy into research and things of the like. It’s clear how much care was put into this book.
If you get the chance, order this book.
I haven't read many books set during the '50s - if any - so it was refreshing to read about a time period I don't stray into that often; I love historical fiction, but I'm drawn to earlier history much more than modern history, mainly because of my lifelong love of the Tudors. I also very rarely read books in which racial issues are such a focal point; again, this is not something I do out of choice, but something that just kind of... happens. The only books I can pluck from the top of my head that deal directly with racial issues are Malorie Blackman's Noughts & Crosses and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and I've loved them both, so I guess that's proof that I should read more books like this one.
Lies We Tell Ourselves is difficult to read in the best kind of way. Does that make sense? The racism and abuse and outright cruelty that Sarah and her fellow black students, and the black population in general, face is sickening. It's awful to know that people were treated this way (and that, in some places, they still are) but stories like this one are so important. It's so important for us to remember the difficulties some people faced, and still face, purely because of the colour of their skin. I will never understand racism - I never want to understand racism - and I hope one day we'll see the day when colour no longer matters. If any of you think racism is a thing of the past, I implore you to open your eyes.
I really enjoyed Robin Talley's writing, particularly the sections in which Sarah thought about her relationship with God and whether or not God meant to make her feel the way she feels, whether the Bible says there's anything wrong with women loving other women, were so touching and beautifully written. To be honest I fell completely in love with Sarah - she's a wonderful heroine, and I just want to give her a hug.
There were a few little niggles that meant I couldn't give the novel five stars. For me the ending seemed to wrap up very quickly; I was hoping for more of a climax, more of a 'BANG!'. Instead we were told a lot which was then never realised: for example, I was hoping for more of a confrontation between Linda and her awful father. I didn't want to see her getting hurt, but she seemed to get away from him very easily considering how hopeless she'd made her situation out to be, though I suppose a lot of Linda's issues were more insular than anything else.
I could also totally understand why Linda had feelings for Sarah, my little cherub, but I couldn't always understand why Sarah had feelings for Linda. I appreciated the idea that Sarah could argue with her and feel more like herself, and I really appreciated that Talley didn't write Linda as a super special snowflake who had none of her father's beliefs; she's had her father's views imposed on her all her life and people don't change their beliefs overnight. But she is racist. There's no denying that. Linda is racist and her racism gets people hurt. She does change her views - which is also an important message, because everyone makes mistakes and everyone deserves the opportunity to be given the time to develop and change their views; I said some stupid things when I was 18, too - but she is a racist when Sarah develops feelings for her, and though it wasn't entirely unbelievable I sometimes had a difficult time understanding why Sarah found her attractive in more than just a physical way when some of the things that came pouring out of her mouth were so ignorant and hurtful.
Ultimately, however, this is a brilliant debut novel and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I flew through it and I'm really looking forward to reading more of Talley's work!
In saying that, I enjoyed reading the book and have given it 4 stars.
I now have it on my bookshelf ready for me to read next and will report back