September 24, 2014

Review: Lies We Tell Ourselves

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
Grade: B+
Release date: September 30, 2014
This e-galley was provided by Harlequin Teen and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
Summary: 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.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Overall, Lies We Tell Ourselves flowed very cinematically. I could actually see the first scene playing out like something in a movie or on TV. I learned a lot from this book—I knew a lot already, but there were personal perspectives I’d never considered. I mean, we all obviously know segregation is wrong, but to get point-of-view chapters from Linda, the daughter of an extreme segregationist, was very interesting. I could see where a lot of her thought process came from, even though most of it was just things her father had drilled into her over the years. I never really felt bored at all while reading. There was a lot of tension, and that’s something else I want to discuss. I’m sure there was supposed to be romantic tension and chemistry, but I never really felt that. And an important note—the two main characters, both girls, start to like each other as more than friends. Because it wasn’t graphic, it didn’t bother me terribly but I know some readers won’t be comfortable with a book that features that (although I’d say it’s only 25% of the plot; the rest is the racial unrest).
Character-wise, I was intrigued by both Sarah and Linda. I obviously didn’t like most of the secondary characters (we aren’t supposed to), but Ruth was great, and I really think she came into her own in the end. At one point, she says, “Don’t you see, Sarah? Someone has to do this. If we give up, nothing will ever change.” She’s only a freshman, and that quote was so pivotal to me. I think it sums up Lies We Tell Ourselves perfectly. Reading from Linda’s perspective was interesting, as I said. I like getting into the heads of people who consider themselves the protagonists when they’re really the antagonists. There were points where I think change came about too suddenly for her but others where I could see her maturing humanly and realistically.
Violence is pretty bad (there’s a boy who’s horrifically beaten up) and then minor acts of violence. None of it is too gruesome, though. Language is also pretty strong. The f-word is used on a few occasions, and the s-word is used, too. Obviously, the n-word was used for historical accuracy, but I think most readers in this day and age will understand its importance to the narrative and not be offended.

The Verdict: Great historical fiction that portrays a troubling time in our country’s history, a time that can’t be shoved under the rug. Were it not for the romance, I’d give Lies We Tell Ourselves 5 stars. But I’ll sum up my review with one of my favorite quotes from the novel: “‘Other people will always try to decide things for you,’ she [Sarah] says. ‘They’ll try to tell you who you are. Remember, no matter what they say, you’re the one who really decides.’”

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