Thursday, September 18, 2014

Review: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Title: Lies We Tell Ourselves
Author: Robin Talley
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release date: September 30th 2014
Pages: 304
Genre: Young Adult historical
Source: BEA 2014
Add to Goodreads | Purchase from Amazon
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.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I was ridiculously excited for Lies We Tell Ourselves. A book that tackles racism, sexism, and homophobia all in one sounds like my kind of book. And while I was a little disappointed by the writing and by some smaller elements, I did really like Lies We Tell Ourselves.

My knowledge of US history is limited, but I think that even if I did know more, I probably wouldn't know all that much about how exactly desegregation worked. It's not something you really learn about; you might get the idealized version, but not what the real issues were. That's what makes Lies We Tell Ourselves such an important novel. The racism and the amount of terrible people in this book are ridiculous, and it's kind of hard to read at parts, but it seems authentic, making this a very powerful story.

But Lies We Tell Ourselves is not only about racial issues; it is nuanced in its portrayal of various issues during this time period. Of course, LBGT rights are a big issue in the novel, and it's treated with respect, authenticity, and nuance. Women's rights aren't quite as obviously addressed, but the main characters do question their gender roles in subtle and meaningful ways over the course of the novel. I love how Robin Talley weaved these important issues together seamlessly in Lies We Tell Ourselves.

The characters are pretty good. They're not quite as fully developed as I'd hoped, but they are definitely intriguing characters. Sarah, of course, is someone the reader sympathizes with; she is courageous and strong, but also very vulnerable. Linda is not the easiest character to like, but I did feel for her; it shines through that these problematic values are what she's been taught all her life, and it was fascinating to see her begin to question what she has always thought to be true. Her progression happens in a very natural way, which I really appreciated.

Despite all these great things, there was still something... missing. You could very much tell that this is a debut novel. While it fits the voices in some cases, the writing is a bit too simplistic for my tastes, and I wish the characters had been a just a little bit more complex. The plot is quite predictable, and while I don't think this story calls for any intense plot twists, I would have liked to see some more surprising character development. I can't really pinpoint what my issue with the writing is; I just wish it had been a bit more emotional, thought-provoking, hard-hitting... just more.

Even if the writing isn't quite as great as I'd hoped, I still really enjoyed Lies We Tell Ourselves. It's educational but it's also a great story. Lies We Tell Ourselves is a powerful, important novel, and I definitely recommend it!


  1. I picked this book up at BEA. It sounds so interesting despite the few issues you had with it. I think I'll feel the same but it still seems worth reading.

    Karen @ For What It's Worth

  2. This book is tackles all of those social issues? Holy moly, that sounds ambitious! Thanks for your review, I'll have to check it out.

    Amber Elise @Du Livre

  3. I agree! That's definitely ambitious, so it's not shocking that it falls a bit short in places. Nonetheless, it sounds like it's worth a try!


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