Lies We Tell Ourselves: A Book Review


Lies We Tell OurselvesTitle: Lies We Tell Ourselves

Author: Robin Talley

Published: September 30th, 2014 by Harlequin Teen

Pages: 384

Genre: Young Adult / Historical Fiction

Source: Library / Hardcover

Series: N/A

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. {Goodreads}

My Thoughts: It’s frightening to think of how much Robin Talley’s novel, Lies We Tell Ourselves, resonates in today’s discussions of race and racism. It wouldn’t be fair to compare the desegregation movements of the late 1950’s to the recent situations in Ferguson and New York, but I believe it’s justified to say that each event will long have an impact on history. Lies We Tell Ourselves is ambitious – tackling both racism and a LGBTQ relationship – but it is ultimately a necessary addition to the YA world. I can only hope that Talley’s next novel will be just as powerful of a read as her debut.

The novel opens by introducing us to Sarah Dunbar, one of the ten black students to attend a former all-white high school. With segregation alive and well in 1959 Virginia, the results of such a movement are horrifying to imagine, much less read about. Talley doesn’t hold back in writing about the terrible details of Sarah’s experience, from the unsettling taunts she receives from classmates to the fear she feels walking into school each day. While Talley’s writing is vivid and clearly backed by research, it’s still fiction; as she writes in her author’s note, the story could never match the horrors of what truly happened. Even so, it hurts to read of such a dark time in human history, reminding me that this genre can be difficult for both reader and writer.

Sarah isn’t the only narrator of the novel, as readers are also given the perspective of Linda Hairston, the daughter of a firm opponent of integration. I believe it’s this unique dual narrative that prevents Lies We Tell Ourselves from becoming a novel lifted from a textbook. Too often have I read historical fiction with facts that overwhelm the story; here, the contrasting perspectives of Linda and Sarah bring life to the plot. Furthermore, Talley manages to extend the two main characters beyond the categories of protagonist and antagonist. You may sympathize with Linda at times or become frustrated with Sarah, going to show that the two girls are more than labels, they are flawed, human beings.

I knew very little about the novel when I began it, so I was pleasantly surprised to find a prominent LGBTQ relationship in the plot. I know that I am just one of many bloggers, librarians, and general readers pushing for more diversity in middle grade and young adult novels, and it seems Robin Talley has met our requests with her debut and upcoming releases. The development of the relationship wasn’t perfect – the switch from enemies to girls in love felt abrupt and the novel’s ending felt too optimistic – but it was a stunning portrayal of how to do such a relationship justice.

While I’ve already created my list of favorite reads for the yearLies We Tell Ourselves deserves the same recognition. Taking on one of the more overlooked time periods in YA, Robin Talley has left an outstanding and powerful first impression. While she has already hit the high marks, I’m certain her next books can only get better from here.

Pros: The characters and the plot are thought-provoking and well-developed; there is no doubt that they leave an impact on the reader.

Cons: The romance felt rushed in points, but this is an element that can be easily overlooked.

Heads Up: Romance, language, and violence. It’s a doozy in this category!

Overall: I give it 4 1/2 stars {**** 1/2}, and I recommend it for ages 15 and up.

Have a wonderful Monday – only one more day left until break! :)


3 thoughts on “Lies We Tell Ourselves: A Book Review

  1. […] Robin Talley’s novel, Lies We Tell Ourselves, was another surprise stand-out for me last year, bringing a LGBTQ storyline to the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Her next book, coming out in October, sounds just as good, following a couple in their first year of college and the struggles they face with gender identity and a long-distance relationship. Sign me up! {review} […]


  2. […] Robin Talley won me over with her debut when I read it last winter, and I’m now anxiously awaiting her next release this fall. Lies We Tell Ourselves is an impressive feat of writing, setting a LGBT romance in racist 1959 Virginia. Finding balance in presenting the issues of segregation and bullying and developing the characters of the novel, it earns my thumbs up! {review} […]


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