YA Historical Fiction/LGBT
Hardback 384 pages
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Goodreads- 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.
This may be a fiction book, but it feels like anything but that. Robin Talley did her homework and in a book that is so charged with not only race issues but also sexuality issues, it really paid off. Reading this novel, I found out how truly ignorant I am of what it's like to be any color other than white in America. I thought I was reading diverse books and trying to be enlightened, but this book will cut you down to your knees and make you ashamed that you didn't know how integration really was before now. I mean, I was born after the first integration started, when this book was set, but I remember when a couple of busloads of African American students had to get up early and ride a bus to "my side" of town when I was elementary school to desegregate the schools. I don't remember picket lines or riots. But when I moved to NC fourteen years ago, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System was still talking about desegregation. This book was based on first person accounts taken from the late 1950's. I went to school in the 1970's. And in 2000, it is still a word that is being discussed. Really?
So, the book. It will make you see, really see how ugly integration was. How brave the students were that had to integrate. And how hateful the schools were that they integrated into, the teachers, the students, the parents, the administration. But this is a very intimate look at the lives of ten students that integrated into a small town all white high school in Virginia in 1959. It is very raw and realistic. No sugar coated words and the small minded thinking of the white people, especially Linda, will make you yell at the book more times than you can count. I'd have to put the book down for a few hours and take a walk because I had so much pent up anger and no way to release it. The main narrator, Sarah, is so stalwart as she gets spit on and called names I still won't even write out. The fact that she also believes there is something wrong with her because she has feelings for girls instead of boys adds one more layer to the story. Sarah's life is hard enough with the day to day struggle of going to Jefferson, but then with her feelings that she believes are unnatural her life is just miserable. She prays for strength and protection and a cure and the safety of the other African American students, including her little sister. She's actually very selfless but she's believable. She argues with Linda very happily and eloquently in the back room of a diner when she, Linda and another girl, Judy, have to work on a project together. She starts out as this scared girl walking through the crowd of shouting white people afraid of every shout and word and touch but she ends up much stronger and braver for having endured the months that she attended school there.
Still, reading all the things she and the other nine students went through, I often got mad at their parents. I know why they wanted their kids to go to Jefferson. They had every right to go there. They should go there. They were making a point. But the parents weren't there, day after day to know what the kids went through. And this is the ultimate in bullying. No one is trying to hide it at all. No one needs Facebook or a cell phone, they just shout right into their faces. Spit on their clothes. Trip them in the halls. Spit spitballs into their hair.
It's a shocking story, the hatred and the violence. It's very addictive. Despite my fits of anger, I found myself grabbing it again and again wanting to know if Sarah and her sister and the other students made it through the school year alive. I wanted to know if Linda's father ever talked to her or looked at her. Did she really get married or did she go on to college? Did she ever think before she spoke to Sarah? Did she really believe the words she was saying? The narration style is great because it goes back and forth between Sarah, the 12th grade African American at Jefferson and Linda, a popular 12th grade white girl at Jefferson. They were such a contrast in thought and content. Sarah is worried about living and surviving, while Linda is worried about how the "integrationist" are ruining her year. At least that's how it starts.
I very much recommend this novel. I would say this isn't my normal fare at all. I wouldn't have picked it up on my own at all. What made me grab it was that the author is from my husband's home town. I am so glad I read it though. It's an issue I tend to avoid, but now, I want to know more. I'm planning to look up some of the first person accounts the author cites and finding my own to read. It is fascinating and horrifying. I can and yet can't believe that we can treat each other so horribly.
There is a lot of violence and language in this novel. It reflects the times that this book was written in, 1959 and the words and attitudes of whites about African Americans. I do not condone that language but it could hardly be realistic without using the vernacular of the times.
And since I loved it so much and I was given a copy from Casey at MM Publicity for my review and I also get to give a copy away. US Only!