Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
Published in 2014 by Mira Ink
My copy: Library
It’s 1959. The battle for civil rights is raging. And it’s Sarah’s first day of school as one of the first black students at previously all-white Jefferson High.
No one wants Sarah there. Not the Governor. Not the teachers. And certainly not the students – especially Linda, daughter of the town’s most ardent segregationist.
Sarah and Linda are supposed to despise each other. But the more time they spend together, the less their differences matter. And both girls start to feel something they’ve never felt before. Something they’re determined to ignore.
This book takes us straight into the action as a group of black students – Sarah, a few of her friends and her younger sister – start their first day at the previously all-white school Jefferson High. From the minute they approach the school, they are abused both verbally and physically. And this doesn’t let up – in fact throughout the novel the abuse never stops – it is horrific and relentless. But alongside this horrible abuse, a love story slowly and uncertainly blooms…
This book is hard to read – the abuse the black students receive is shocking and horrendous – and worst of all, the adults just stand back and let it happen – often joining in themselves. The book gives a harsh taste of what life was like for some sections of society in America 50 or so years ago – it is hard to believe that attitudes like this existed relatively recently.
But against this backdrop of racism and prejudice, Sarah and Linda slowly start to develop a strange and uncomfortable friendship. Sections of the book are told alternately from each of their points of view which I think works really well, and helps the story to flow. There is a lot of tension between the two, and they are very confused about their feelings towards each other. It is interesting the way in which Linda’s racist attitudes and opinions – which are completely influenced by her father – slowly erode, although throughout the novel she is very unsure of herself and how she feels.
This is a good read, but it is hard going at times, which is quite right given the subject matter – it is not something you can put a nice shine on. I think though that the plot sometimes suffers as the book focused very strongly on the issues, leaving the storyline to feel secondary and quite one dimensional at times. However I think this is a very good book for young adults of all backgrounds to read as it’s a real eye-opener, and shows how people have suffered from prejudice, even in the not-so-distant past.