Lies We Tell Ourselves: Review

July 22, 2015 2014, 3.5 star books, historical, Layla, lgbtq, romance 15 ★★★½

Lies We Tell Ourselves: ReviewLies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
on September 30, 2014
Genres: historical, realistic fiction
Pages: 384 pages
Format: eBook
Source: Borrowed
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three-half-stars
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.

Boldly realistic and emotionally compelling, Lies We Tell Ourselves is a brave and stunning novel about finding truth amid the lies, and finding your voice even when others are determined to silence it.

Hey hey, guess what I just read? Lies We Tell Ourselves! A really great book that came out last year that I should have read immediately upon its release! Why? Because it’s an interracial lesbian romance set in the South during the desegregation of Virginia’s public school system. (You had me at lesbian romance.)

Anyway, while it is not without its problems, Robin Talley’s Lies We Tell Ourselves is a really strong debut novel. I read it in one sitting, and it is a testament to the book’s excellence that I really enjoyed it despite having to endure a massive airport delay. (I wasn’t even bothered! I just wanted to sit down again so I could keep. reading. the book.) I wanted to review it because (1) if you haven’t read it, you should read it and (2) man, I have all the feelings about this one, and I want to discuss it with you all.

Here’s the premise: Lies We Tell Ourselves unfolds through alternating narratives – the voices of Sarah Dunbar, who is one of the first black students to integrate her new high school, and Linda Hairston, a white student who is super opposed to integration. (Each new chapter begins with a lie, like “I’m not strong enough for this,” “Adults always know what’s best,” and “She’s wrong,” and this switches to truths by the novel’s end. I thought this was a neat choice to make – so … now you know, too.) Sarah’s experiences in her new school are pretty horrific to read about, as she encounters extreme physical violence, sexual harassment, and structural racism. For purposes of comparison, Linda, on the other hand, is worried that her senior year will be ruined. The two are forced to engage when they have to work together on a group project; for Sarah, the relationship becomes a space where she can argue (in ways that it isn’ t safe for her to do in school), while Linda sees the relationship as an opportunity to show Sarah how wrong she is. Meanwhile, they fall in love, which is hugely scary and threatening to both of them.

The strongest part of Lies We Tell Ourselves for me was the writing. It’s a really, really good debut, you all. It’s not an easy read by any means, but I think it’s a well-written and important one. In addition to that, the main threads of the novel – the storyline about desegregation and Sarah and Linda’s discovery of their same-sex desires – worked well for me as a reader. Talley does a good job of giving Sarah and Linda strong and distinct voices, and I really liked reading about their relationships with their respective families and communities (I loved Sarah’s relationship with her family, and thought Linda’s friendship was Judy was interesting – I could have used more background and further story on both counts!). I also like that the novel is rooted in an intersectional analysis of oppression – that is to say, what it means for Sarah to experience the world as a young woman who is both black and in love with another young woman. All of this stuff? Really well done.

What I was less enthusiastic about was, unfortunately, the romance. I liked the inclusion of Sarah and Linda’s queerness in the context of desegregation and the Civil Rights Movement, and think it’s an important topic for historical fiction to cover, but I thought their actual romantic relationship was kind of upsetting. (I know lots of folks really liked this, and know I might be in the minority here.) It’s basically this: Linda doesn’t change enough as a character to be a good partner to Sarah, I think. Spoilery spoilers under the cut. View Spoiler »

So, has anyone else read this? I realize I might be behind on this one! Even though I’m late to the game, though, I really enjoyed it as historical fiction – just not so much as a romance. And I’m impressed by this as a debut, and looking forward to Talley’s upcoming release this fall!

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15 Responses to “Lies We Tell Ourselves: Review”

  1. Carina Olsen

    Amazing review Layla :D I’m so glad you liked this book. Yay for gorgeous writing. <3 I'm not sure this book would be for me, sigh. But you do make me interested in it :) Thank you for sharing. <3
    Carina Olsen recently posted…In My Mailbox #195

  2. Pili @ In Love With Handmade

    I read and loved this one! I found it a very hard book to read because reading Sarah’s experiences caused me a lot of anxiety and were a massive slap to my very privilegued face that never had to go through anything like that and then made angry to the point of rage and making me want to go into the book and both shake and choke people in there for being so STUPIDLY AND INSANELY racist…

    I’m a regular white Spanish girl that tends to respond very badly to any sort of discrimination of others, and that will bite your head off verbally if you go with slurs against people for their race or sexual orientation… Hell, I’ll even defend your right to practice your religion as long as you don’t try to get political with it and I’m a militant atheist…

    I might agree with you about how the romance left me a lil unsure of it, but Linda had a looong way to come from, and of course Sarah is different for her, but soon she’ll see that if Sarah is different so are the rest of Sarah’s family and friends and it will progress from there, she’s a teenager, and I guess she’s at the point with her view of the world will open and change from what she was indoctrinated to believe.

    I said so in my review and I will say it again, this is a book that everyone needs to read, we all need to be reminded about how horrible discrimation is and how we need to fight it in any we can.
    Pili @ In Love With Handmade recently posted…Tell Me Tuesdays #28!!

  3. Kate @ Ex Libris

    I haven’t read it, but I would have a huge issue with the romance since it appears that her feelings are sort of qualified by Sarah being the “exception”, as you said. It’s certainly an interesting idea and it sounds like she author handled a lot of very weighty subjects in a way that didn’t distract from the human element of the story.
    Kate @ Ex Libris recently posted…Blog Tour + Giveaway: Pretending To Be Erica

    • Layla

      Yeahhh, that was just really difficult for me to get behind. I want Sarah to be with someone who isn’t … still pretty racist? or is at least committed to challenging their beliefs? But Linda still thinks that integration is wrong and that Sarah is like, the special exception. (And also that African-Americans who are exceptions, like Sarah, should of course be treated differently and allowed to go to school without the threat of violence or a school dance or receive service at a drugstore.) I think Linda’s changing, and I like both of them as characters, I just can’t feel super down with this as a romance. Anyway. If you read it, let me know what you think?
      Layla recently posted…Lies We Tell Ourselves: Review

  4. Laura Hartley

    I’ve read this! Thought it was an excellent read :) The portrayal of society at the time was (what I imagine to be) spot on. But yes I do agree with your points about Linda and Sarah’s romance – I didn’t really warm to Linda thaat much over the course of the novel. She still seemed a bit snooty and racist etc. I guess the point was that things were changing but very slowly..

    Great review!

    Laura @ What’s Hot?
    Laura Hartley recently posted…TOP TEN TUESDAY: Ten Books That Celebrate Diversity/Diverse Characters

    • Layla

      Yeah, I agree? I agree that Linda does change a lot – and that it takes time for people to unlearn racist attitudes. I think she’s changing slowly, but … where she’s at is still super racist, and I don’t know, I just felt like the romance was hard for me to get behind as a result. Anyway, glad you liked this one too! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it. :)
      Layla recently posted…Lies We Tell Ourselves: Review

    • Layla

      Let me know what you think about it when you get to it? I’m excited for her fall release, too. I’ve been waiting for that one to appear on netgalley or edelweiss. And yeah, good LGBT romance is hard to come by sometimes, but it does exist!
      Layla recently posted…Lies We Tell Ourselves: Review

  5. Michelle

    I’ve been so buried in reading Australian and UK releases lately that I hadn’t even heard of this but it sounds amazing. Lovely review Layla. My favourite books are the ones which make me forget the world and invade my thoughts when I’m not reading! I’ll definitely be checking this out :)
    Michelle @ The Unfinished Bookshelf
    Michelle recently posted…Crow Moon by Anna McKerrow

    • Layla

      Ooh, anything you’d recommend? :) And I thought this one was really interesting – not perfectly done, though. There’s quite a lot going on in it, and I would have, I think, preferred less of a romance here? (Not fewer queer feelings! Just maybe … something that feels like it’s supposed to be a love story.) I don’t know, this gave me some other feelings as well. If you do read this, let me know how you feel about it!
      Layla recently posted…Lies We Tell Ourselves: Review

  6. kindlemom1

    I love those books that capture our attention and make us forget everything else around us. Sounds like this was that read for you! So happy you loved this despite some flaws.
    Wonderful review!
    kindlemom1 recently posted…WoW Pick of the Week