Review: Carnegie Shortlist – Lies We Tell Ourselves

Today marks the start of Volunteers Week and this review comes courtesy of Megan,  who has been an “Imaginator” with Bolton Library and Museum Service for three years. The Imaginators plan and deliver family events and activities and promote libraries, books and reading to other young people.

Here are Megan’s thoughts on Robin Talley’s Lies We Tell Ourselves:

Lies We Tell Ourselves tells the mesmerising story of two young women living in 1959 Virginia – one white, one black – amidst the deeply entrenched racist ideals that shape their society.There may be a fight for civil rights raging, but life is relatively normal for the residents of Davisburg… That is, until the black students arrive at Jefferson High.

Sarah Dunbar is one of these students. She is the daughter of an NAACP member, and faces daily abuse at the hands of the segregationists that swarm the school “ but she must learn to cope, for the sake of the civil rights movement. People are depending on her.

With this in mind, Sarah reluctantly shoulders the responsibility. Then things start to go horribly wrong.

Suddenly, the worst thing isn’t the spit-balls or the jeers or fearing for her sister’s life.

It’s Linda.

Linda Hairston. The beautiful, wealthy progeny of William Hairston, the editor of the Davisburg Gazette who is more opposed to integration than anyone else in the town.

First it’s the hallway. Then the bathrooms. Then the back of Mr Bailey’s store, where they are forced to work together on the project that determines if they pass or fail their French course.

And it’s the realisation of something both Sarah and Linda are adamant they won’t acknowledge that will make them question everything they have ever known.

As soon as I read the synopsis of this book, I knew that I was going to enjoy it.

As soon as I read the first sentence, I was hooked.

There are several reasons for this: Firstly, I have recently developed an interest in historical fiction, and Lies We Tell Ourselves really appealed to me in that respect. Secondly, the book is a completely different take on the typical high school tale, and I found that immensely refreshing, having seen so many that are essentially the same story being retold with different characters. Thirdly, Talley’s writing puts you in the character’s shoes: the descriptions are vivid, and you truly understand why they think and feel and act the way they do. This is made even better by the fact that the story is told from the dual perspective of both Sarah and Linda, giving you a riveting insight into the public and private lives of these two girls who have grown up in very different worlds. Honestly, it’s difficult to believe that these people weren’t real.
The title of the book is also beautifully linked to its structure, with the title of each chapter being a ‘lie’: a poignant thought which is explored within the chapter. For example, “Lie #1: There’s no need to be afraid” is the title of a chapter which shows why the characters have every reason to be terrified. In addition, the final three chapters (including epilogue) contrast the uncertainty and danger that pervades the rest of the story, bearing titles of “truths” rather than “lies,” and have a distinctly lighter, happier air, with everything ending well for Sarah, Linda and the other protagonists. The epilogue in particular brings the novel to an uplifting, satisfying close.
I will admit that I had one reservation before reading Lies We Tell Ourselves. When I saw that there was a school project involved, I braced myself for another cliche’d story and I was very pleasantly surprised. Talley took an overdone concept and turned it completely on its head into something unique and utterly believable.
Lies We Tell Ourselves is a thoughtful, bold and gripping read, which explores the harsh realities of racism and homophobia in the Southern States at a time when black and white were virtually synonymous with wrong and right.



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